Helpless at the loss of her son, Mary covers her face with her hands. They gleam in the dark. The Munich prince of painters, Franz von Stuck, infused the traditional pietà with great drama. His isolated figures are perpendicular to each other and personify the contrast of life and death. Christ’s naked corpse appears much more three-dimensional and more real than mantled, schematic Mary in her anguish. The Christian subject serves purely as a pretext to examine existential sensations, such as misery and sorrow.
Ludwig Josef Pfungst, a businessman in Worms, died on 4 July 1905. A childless bachelor, he left his entire art collection and his fortune of around a million marks to the city of Frankfurt. It was his wish that the interest on the money be used to purchase works of contemporary art. This legacy was a major factor leading to the foundation of the Städtische Galerie, which has been part of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut since 1907. Still in existence today, the Pfungst Foundation now mainly supports purchases of modern art for the Städel museum’s Collection of Prints and Drawings.