It was not until the early fourteenth century that the image of the Pietà became an established motif in Christian iconography. Focusing solely on the grieving Virgin embracing the body of her son, sculptural groups representing this theme became an exercise in conveying its dramatic power through graphic anatomical details and rousing expressions of grief.
Early German Pietàs are rare, perhaps the most celebrated example being the Roettgen Pietà most recently dated to the mid-14th century, now in the Landesmuseum in Bonn (inv. no. 24189), whose drastic realism takes the poignancy of the subject to a visual extreme. While the comparatively peaceful nature of the present Pietà contrasts with the group in Bonn, it too is likely to have been made in the Rhineland. A comparison with two analogous groups in Soest (Nikolaikapelle, Beenken, op. cit., no. 40) and Paderborn (Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum und Domschatzkammer, Foto Marburg, image no. fmc437894) argues for a possible localisation in Westphalia. Note, in particular, the Virgin's broad facial features with large, slanting eyes, her dress, and the scheme of her drapery around the legs. However the wood of the present group, which appears to be lime, may indicate a more southern origin. A notable feature seen in the present group is the appearance and positioning of Christ: instead of lying horizontally across the Virgin's legs as an emaciated corpse, He sits upright on the Virgin’s lap with idealised features, seemingly foreshadowing His Resurrection. In this, the group relates to a mid-14th century Pietà from Cologne (Bergmann, op. cit.), whose emphasis shifts away from expressions of pain towards a sense of pious contemplation.
H. Beenken, Bildwerke Westfalens, Bonn, 1923, no. 40; R. Suckale (ed.), Schöne Madonnen am Rhein, exh. cat. LVR-Landesmuseum, Bonn, 2009, pp. 189-190, no. 13; U. Bergmann, 'Die Kölner Skulptur der Hochgotik' in D. Täube and M. Fleck (eds.), Glanz und Größe des Mittelalters: Kölner Meisterwerke aus den großen Sammlungen der Welt, exh. cat. Schnütgen Museum, Cologne, Munich, 2011, p. 143, fig. 7