This is a Pieta, the mutilated body of Christ in his mother’s arms. Elegantly dressed young men, each leg of their hose a different colour, with fashionably turned-up toes, and wearing a variety of fantastical hats, are gathered round, some gambling and quarrelling, and some carrying Christ’s foot, hand, bones and heart, and his body in the form of the Host. The painting is a visual admonition to those who swear by the parts of Our Lord’s body and could almost be an illustration of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s description of the youths of Flanders whose blasphemous oaths were so terrible
“—that it is grisly for to heere hem swere.
Our blissed Lordes body they totere – ” (totere = tear in pieces)
Swearing in this way nevertheless continued, though euphemistically as, for example,
“Zounds” (God’s wounds) and ” ‘Sdeath” (God’s death) and persisted into fairy tales
as in the Giant’s cry “Odd’s Boddikins!” – God’s Body!
Chaucer’s Host himself swears “by nailes and by blood”, and also “by the croys which that Seint Eleyne fond” – bringing us neatly to the next painting (3)
At the bottom two men quarrel over a game of backgammon – possibly a warning against the sins of gambling.