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Symbols of Suffering

Reopening 16 May

Admission free | Advance booking required


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The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two) is now open and The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One) will reopen 16 May

The four artworks displayed in this room recreate or allude to some of the most recognisable imagery in Christian iconography - the ‘Crucifixion’, the ‘Pietà’ and the ‘Mater Dolorosa’ (Our Lady of Sorrows). The display includes works by Craigie Aitchison, John Bellany, Pablo Picasso and Jenny Saville.

Western art and Christianity have a long relationship. For hundreds of years, the Church has been a powerful patron, commissioning works of art from many of the world’s greatest artists. In the 20th century, as Western society became more secular, so artists’ use of religious symbolism became more varied and confrontational. Addressing both personal and global concerns, artists have explored their individual spirituality, commented on socio-political issues and questioned religious symbolism.

The representation of Jesus Christ on the cross has been one of the central subjects of Christian art. Universally recognised as a symbol of martyrdom and suffering, in John Bellany’s Allegory, the Crucifixion, set in his native fishing village, becomes a metaphor for human suffering.

In her painting Aleppo, Jenny Saville has borrowed the composition of the ‘Pietà’, a subject in Western art in which the Virgin Mary is shown cradling the dead body of Jesus Christ. Meaning ‘pity’ in Italian, the ‘Pietà’ was intended to convey sorrow and mourning. Saville uses this traditional format to address the human suffering in Aleppo (in Syria) and the devastating consequences of war.

The ‘Mater Dolorosa’ (Our Lady of Sorrows) is a traditional representation of the tearful Virgin Mary, whose son has died on the cross. Picasso’s Weeping Woman adopts the same imagery, only here it responds to the Spanish Civil War and the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937 that resulted in the< deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Event accessibility

Display accessibility

  • Wheelchair access


Gallery facilities

A full accessibility guide is available at www.accessibilityguides.org for Modern One and Modern Two.

Parking for visitors is available at both Modern One and Modern Two. A donation is requested of £3 for up to 4 hours and £6 for 4-8 hours. Our payment meters have contactless capability.

  • Wheelchair access
  • Disabled parking
  • Bike rack
  • Parking

Getting here

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is located 15 minutes’ walk from Princes Street. It includes two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, set in a beautiful sculpture park.

In addition to the transport options below there are bike racks at each site and Just Eat Cycle Hire stations nearby.

75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR

Modern One: Reopening 16 May
Modern Two: Open daily (10am-5pm)

Book your visit to Modern One

Book your visit to Modern One

We will be limiting the number of visitors in each gallery at any one time. To manage this we've instituted a free, timed ticketing system for both venues.

Admission is free, but tickets must be booked in advance.

Our Friends

Our Friends

Friends of the Galleries get free unlimited entry to all exhibitions, and enjoy a wide range of exclusive benefits including early exhibition access, special events and 10% discount in our cafes.

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