Georges Rouault created the Miserere series as a response to World War I. His aquatint plates depict humanity in a way that uncovers its follys. For example, one of his paintings is entitled, “We believe ourselves kings.” This painting shows how as humans we trick ourselves into believing that we are entitled to power and glory above everyone else, but it is at the expense of all humanity because power and glory lead us to destroy one another. In the end, we have to look at the poverty and destruction around us that we don’t want to face and we have to find a way to fix it.
Some of the other plates depict skeletons coming for young men who are going to fight in the war. There is one of a boy and his father embracing as a skeleton representing death walks past, looking on the boy whose life he intends to take. These pictures of the skeletons are the ones that precede plates 42 and 43. The skeletons are predecting the fate of the persons in plates 42 and 43.
Plate 42 is entitled, “Bella matribus detestata” or “Wars, hated by mothers.” It is an image of a mother and her young son. He appears to be an infant. It is said to be a continuation on the theme of war and how it affects the family. The first images being of a father accepting the fate of his son who will be taken off to war to be killed. The mother, in contrast, is saddened by the horror of the future wars that may take the son she is holding so lovingly.
Plate 43 has a second image of the mother. This time she is alone. This plate is entitled, “Nous devons mourir, nous et tout ce qui est notre,” or “We are doomed to die, we and all that is ours.” The mother’s face is downcast as she things about her son who has been sent off to fight in the war. Her son is gone and he is doomed to die as so many young men died during World War I.
These plates are part of Rouaults commentary on the war. It devestated Europe and killed almost an entire generation of young men. These plates reflect on the helplessness that families felt as their sons were sent to be slaughtered. In looking through the rest of the Miserere collection, Rouault provides an answer to the despair: turning to Christ. Looking higher than the horrors on Earth, Christianity provides relief from the despair and hope in a brighter future and afterlife.