Pieter Paul Rubens

Descent from the Cross

Descent from the Cross
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Author: Pieter Paul Rubens
Painting, Oil on canvas, 297x200 cm
Origin: Flanders, Circa 1617-1618

After the success of his monumental altar triptych for Antwerp Cathedral in 1614, Rubens received a number of commissions to produce variations on the central panel, which showed the Descent from the Cross. The theme was traditionally used in art to illustrate the Christian dogma of atonement for the Original Sin and the mystery of Communion. Unlike Netherlandish paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries, which presented a detailed narrative, Rubens treated the subject in accordance with the canons set out by the Council of Trent . Instead of a multi-figure composition, here we find only those directly mentioned in the Gospels. Thus the dead body of Christ is supported in silent grief by Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus and the young John the Evangelist. Mary, gently holding her son for the last time, symbolises the Christian virtue of resignation. Mary Magdalene has fallen to her knees, the personification of repentance.

The simplicity used in conveying the emotional state of each figure, united as they are by a common feeling of unbounded sorrow, was dictated by the artist's desire to emphasise their understanding of the necessity and inevitability of the Messiah's self-sacrifice.

Personage: Christ
Style: Baroque
Source of entry: Collection of Empress Josephine, Malmaison, 1814
Theme: The Bible and Christianity
Exibition: Flemish Art: 17th century

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