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Pieta

1973 Malcah Zeldis Born: New York, New York 1931 oil on fiberboard 26 x 22 in. (66.0 x 55.9 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson 1986.65.159 Not currently on view


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Many artists have immortalized the image of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. Malcah Zeldis is a devout Jewish woman and finds it difficult to explain why she painted this Christian scene: “All I can say is that it was done after I attended a wedding which moved me very deeply. Somehow, very strong feelings were stirred up” (Herbert W. Hemphill, Jr., and Julia Weissman, Twentieth-century American Folk Art and Artists, 1974). Zeldis painted stark contrasts throughout the image to heighten the emotional impact of the scene: Leafless trees reach into the sky like the arms of the crucified, and white clouds fly across the top of the painting like messengers between heaven and earth.

Keywords

Animal - bird - buzzard

Animal - donkey

Religion - New Testament - Christ

Religion - New Testament - Crucifixion

Religion - New Testament - Mary

State of being - emotion - sorrow

painting

folk art

paint - oil

fiberboard - masonite