Religious Art: ‘Have Pity!’

Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), ‘Have Pity!’, 1919; private collection.

Ernst Barlach’s small wood-carving struck me deeply when I first saw a photo-print of the statue in Gombrich’s ‘The Story of Art’.  The old, bony hands of this woman extended beneath a seemingly coarse and debasing covering intensely expresses the suffering and pain of the lives of too many people on this earth.  This sculpture simply reminds me of King Benjamin’s address.  For, in the first place, there is a stark realisation that we should ‘not suffer that the beggar putteth up [their] petition to [us] in vain’.

Yet, as King Benjamin also reminds us, ‘are we not all beggars’ before God?  With this view in mind, I am struck by this solitary approach toward the Divine.  Perhaps this image suggest to us the blind, self-inflicted, contrition of a sinner waiting to be touched by God rather than reaching out to Him.  Perhaps there is something of Peter in this form of penitence, who asked the lord to depart from him because of his sins.  Perhaps, like Moses, in coming to God, this repentant-soul has veiled their face in order to hide their luminosity from us.

Whatever our sense, I am deeply moved by this anonymous act of contrition; for in making visible their strained arms beneath that veil we inevitably focus upon those cupped hands, and witness a moment of grace.  A moment where someone enacts their divine need while simultaneously demonstrating their willingness to receive anything the Lord has to offer.


  1. Beautiflul!

  2. Looking at this wood-carving and thinking of Peter immediately draws to mind his experience with the lame man sitting outside the temple. His response is one that I think of often when I see others asking for money.

    “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give unto you.”

    I see the follow-up to this piece art being someone grasping those cupped hands and bidding the woman to rise.

  3. Cynthia L. says:

    This is wonderful, Aaron. This series is fantastic. I like to think I’m not completely clueless when it comes to art, but your insights magnify my appreciation of each piece you’ve done many fold.

  4. Stunning piece of art and blogging. I found the sculpture unsettling because I wanted to unveil the supplicant. I wanted to see who was asking–maybe to assess their worthiness to receive my gift? Ah yes, that question is meaningless. All I need to know is they are asking.

  5. Poetic and profound thoughts, Aaron. As you wrote, the image of a hand reaching out to us for help, or being extended to us in aid, is a beautiful and humbling scene replayed throughout the scriptures. A fantastic piece for the end of my sabbath.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Amazing art. Thanks, Aaron.

  7. I love this. (Both the piece and what you have written about it here.)

  8. Great image. I particularly like the last line you wrote about it. Very powerful.