The Eucharistic Man of Sorrows (Mystical Vine)

El Varón Eucarístico de Dolores (La Vendimia Mística)

Feast day: 19 days after Pentecost, on a Friday. 

Essay by Courtney Sisk

The Eucharistic Man of Sorrows image is originally from a post-Crucifixion devotion developed, not from a historical event, but instead a “mystical contemplation.” Emphasis on this representation of Christ is based on the Five Precious Wounds of the Crucifixion, especially the last wound inflicted by the Holy Lance of Longinus on the side of Jesus’s chest and, according to the New Testament (John 19:34), water and blood poured out of this wound. The emphasis on blood within the Man of Sorrows imagery works to establish him as the Eucharist, or the sacramental meal. The Blood of Christ pours directly into a sacred chalice and often into a wine barrel surrounded by seven lambs relating to the passage of Christ’s transubstantiation of the wine and bread into the blood and body given as the sacrifice of the Mass: “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). The Medieval iconography of the winepress is replaced by a single barrel with representations of grapes and their vine, extending from the open wound in Christ’s chest as symbols of the Blood of Christ and its power of life. The lambs relate to Christ’s role as the Lamb of God, and are often represented in groups of seven, signifying the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the sick, Marriage and Holy orders. Often the lambs may be represented coming out as tags of the Sacred Book with the initials of each sacrament, further emphasizing their meaning. The representation of Christ in the role of the Eucharistic Man is commonly seen in Retablos, and the NMSU Art Gallery holds many artistic examples of this theme.

In one example of the Eucharistic Man of Sorrows, Christ is shown with his hands clasped in prayer kneeling over on a golden barrel filled with blood draining from the five wounds or stigmata and the forehead where the Crown of Thorns is placed directly into a golden overflown chalice (fig. 1). His body is wrapped in a white loincloth around his waist. Even the tilt of his head and eye contact display Christ as interceding for mankind, a technique which was commonly used in early sixteenth-century German examples of the Eucharistic Man of Sorrows. The vine of grapes wraps across his upper body and above him, showing the power of life through Christ’s chest wound. The barrel is placed on a green field, and the seven lambs position themselves around it, drinking the overflowing blood. The color palette of this retablo is light and full of signs of nature, again emphasizing the life-giving qualities of this representation of Christ.

Christ is once again portrayed kneeling in prayer on a red barrel filled with his blood (fig. 2). A similar white loincloth is placed across Christ’s waist. The Crown of Thorns, as well as the vine of grapes are both present in this composition emerging from the wound in his chest. In this retablo, Christ looks downwards instead of directly at the viewer, in an example of a more contemplative expression. The wine barrel of this example is not located in a field, but instead over a tiled floor, although it still maintains a similar color schematic as the previous example. The seven lambs are more academically painted in this example, as they peek around and from behind the barrel, showing depth to the composition, reaching up to drink the Blood of Christ. This theme shows the importance of the belief of Christ’s ability to give life through his death, and the presence of the Eucharist within the Catholic hope through the Passion of Christ and its transubstantiation.

Christ is always displayed kneeling on a wine barrel filled with blood from the Five Precious Wounds of the Passion and surrounded by seven sheep (fig. 3). In this depiction, Christ’s golden hair flows down his back, as he tilts his head surrounded by a divine ray of light connecting his eyes with the viewer. On the left side of the composition, the chalice in which his blood flows are placed upon a book with seven tags and encircled by floating clouds. The seven tags show the Latin initial of the Seven Sacraments described earlier. These tags act as more direct reminders of the Seven Sacraments within the Catholic faith. The function of this image is to clearly remind the viewer of the presence of Christ’s human body, and related Eucharistic devotion.

Figure 1. The Eucharistic Man of Sorrows (Mystical Vine) /

El Varón Eucarístico de Dolores (La Vendimia Mística)

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 12¼ x 9”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.23.

Figure 2. The Eucharistic Man of Sorrows (Mystical Vine) /

El Varón Eucarístico de Dolores (La Vendimia Mística)

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin.12¼ x 9”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.4.75.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich.

Figure 3. The Eucharistic Man of Sorrows (Mystical Vine) /

El Varón Eucarístico de Dolores (La Vendimia Mística)

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 12½ x 9½”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.24.

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

References

Giffords, Gloria Fraser, and Yvonne Lange. The Art of Private Devotion: Retablo Painting of Mexico. Fort Worth: InterCultura, 1991.

Giffords, Gloria Fraser. Mexican Folk Retablos. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1994.

Hall, J. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1974.

Sallay, Dora. “The Eucharistic Man of Sorrows in Late Medieval Art.” Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU 6 (2000): 45-80.

Zarur, Elizabeth and Charles Muir Lovell, ed.  Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.