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The Cover
January 20, 1999

Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Madonna)

JAMA. 1999;281(3):213. doi:10.1001/jama.281.3.213

The 15th century in Northern Europe was, as Johan Huizinga reminds us, the heroic century (The Autumn of the Middle Ages, translated by Rodney J. Payton and Ulrich Mammitzsch; Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press; 1996). It was a century of passion, of piety, and of a craving for beauty. It was also a century haunted constantly by the specter of death, whether in the form of war or disease or famine or natural catastrophe. Yet it produced an art that, while overshadowed—at least in the history texts—by that being produced on the other side of the Alps, was every bit as innovative. The latter is familiar as "Renaissance" art, but naming the Northern style has been more problematical. It is sometimes called "Late Gothic" as though it were merely a stage in development from 14th-century Medieval to 16th-century Baroque, but that is a misnomer. It was neither Gothic nor Late. It was new and revolutionary, as revolutionary as that of Massacio, Mantegna, and Leonardo da Vinci, although quite different. The two styles may have had the same genotype, but their phenotypes were completely different.