Saturday, March 26, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The Fourteenth Station, The Body of Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Titian, Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1572
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

All four of the Gospels tell us about the burial of Jesus after the Crucifixion.   They tell us that there was a sense of urgency because it was late on a Friday and the Sabbath was about to begin.  They tell us that His body was wrapped in a linen cloth and laid in a newly hewn tomb in the rock near the place where He died.  John adds the detail that spices were brought by a man named, Nicodemus, and that the spices were incorporated in the linen wrappings.  But one receives the impression that it was an emotion charged, hurried burial, probably a bit tense as well.  And the three Synoptic Gospels include the fact that there were women among the group who made note of the location and intended to return as soon as the Sabbath was over to do a better job of honoring His body.1

The earliest images of the burial of Jesus take pains to include many of these Gospel details.  They show the linen cloth and often the spices being poured.  Although the figures do show emotion, it is kept firmly under control.   At the beginning only men were depicted attending to the burial.  Later, the Virgin Mary and then the other women were added.

Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
From the Gospels of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c. 1000
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS BSB Clm 4453, fol. 250v

Jesus Laid in the Tomb
From the Book of Pericopes of Emperor Henry II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS BSB Clm 5442, fol. 108r

Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1086-1100
Rome, Church of Sant'Urbano alla Caffarella
Burial of Jesus, From the Ingeborg Psalter
French, c.1195
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 9
Burial of Jesus
From a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1230-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 280, fol. 8r

Burial of Jesus, From Psalter and Book of Hours
Belgian (Liege), c.1250-1300
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 G 17, fol. 184r

Burial of Jesus, From Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Belgian (Hainaut), 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 41v

Burial of Jesus, From Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), c.1290-1300
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F5, fol. 21v

By the early fourteenth century the spice jar has disappeared for the most part and the scene has become one of intense emotion.  The participants weep, the throw themselves on the body, they raise their hands in the air, they kiss parts of the body.  One can almost hear the wailing coming from the painted mouths. 

Duccio, The Body of Jesus Laid in the Tomb
From the Maesta
Italian, c. 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Giotto, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c. 1320-1325
Settignano, Berenson Collection

Pietro Lorenzetti, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c.1320
Assisi, Church of San Francesco, Lower Church

Simone Martini, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c. 1335-1344
Berlin, Gemldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Taddeo Gaddi, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c1335-1340
Florence, Church of Santa Croce, Cappella di Bardi di Vernio

Giovanni di Benedetto and Collaborators, Burial of Jesus
From a Book of Hours
Italian (Milan), c.1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 91

Master of Flemalle, Burial of Jesus
From the Seilern Triptych (central panel)
Flemish, 1410-1420
London, Courtauld Gallery

Michelino de'Molinari de Besozzo, Burial of Jesus
From a Prayer Book
Italian, 1425-1435
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 944, fol. 24v

Jean Fouquet, Burial of Jesus
From the Hours of Etienne Chevalier
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 71, fol. 20

Master of the Autun Triptych, Burial of Jesus
French, c. 1512-1530
Dole, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Godefroy le Batave, Burial of Jesus
From La vie de la belle et clere Magdalene
French (Central), c.1516-1530
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 24955, fol. 49
The words in the circular border translate as "There is no grief like the grief of a mother"

Most images from the Middle Ages up to the early sixteenth century show the body of Jesus stretched out on or held over a sarcophagus-type tomb, with a few exceptions.  The exceptions come to us from the minds of some exceptional artists such as Fra Angelico, Rogier van der Weyden and Michelangelo.

Fra Angelico, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c. 1438-1440
Munich, Bayerisches Gemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakotek

Rogier van der Weyden, Burial of Jesus
Flemish, 1450
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Michelangelo, Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1500-1501
London, National Gallery

They show us a rather awkward image in which the limp body of Christ, supported by someone standing behind, is held up for a full length frontal view.  This image probably draws on the iconographic tradition of the Man of Sorrows,2 presenting us with a full-length version instead of the more traditional half-length. 

However, the general direction of artists, beginning with Raphael, is to show us, not a static pause for lamentation before burial, but the sheer fact of manipulating a corpse.  They show us the struggle to carry the limp body and to place it in the tomb.  Christ’s body sags, His arms hang down, His dead flesh resists the efforts to restrain it.  The helpers strain against the weight, the dead weight. The deadness of the dead Christ is emphasized.  

Raphael, Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1507
Rome, Galleria Borghese

Titian, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c. 1525
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Giorgio Vasari, Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1532
Arezzo, Casa Vasari

Tintoretto, Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1592-1594
Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore

El Greco, Burial of Jesus
Greco-Spanish, late 1560s
Athens, Alexandros Soutzos Museum

Caravaggio, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c. 1600-1604
Vatican, Vatican Museums, Pinacoteca

Peter Paul Rubens, Burial of Jesus
Flemish, c. 1615-1616
London, Courtauld Gallery

Nicolas Tournier, Burial of Jesus
French, c. 1632-1635
Toulouse, Musée des Augustins

Rembrandt, Burial of Jesus
Dutch, c.1635
Glasgow, Hunterian Art Gallery

Paolo Naldini, Burial of Jesus
Italian, c. 1651-1700
Rome, Church of San Marcello al Corso

Guercino, Burial of Jesus
Italian, 1656
Chicago, Art Institute

Adriaen van der Werff, Burial of Jesus
Dutch, 1703
Munich, Alte Pinakotek

Joseph Thomas Chautard, Burial of Jesus
French, 1866
Pau, Musée nationale du chateau de Pau

This is also the period during which artists gave us many images of the dead Christ in the tomb as well as the most glorious images of the Risen Christ.  Taken together these images emphasize the story of redemption.  He was truly dead and now is risen. 

Rosso Fiorintino, Dead Christ with Angels
Italian, c. 1524-1526
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Veronese, Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels
Italian, 1587-1589
Berlin, Staatliche Museen

Guercino, Two Angels Weeping Over the Dead Christ
Italian, 1618
London, National Gallery

Philippe de Champaigne, Dead Christ
French, Before 1654
Paris, Musée du Louvre

By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the mood began to change and the personal grief of the mourners came to the fore once again, although expressed in less extravagant gestures than in the late medieval period. 

Jules Joseph Meynier, Return from Calvary
French, 1873
Pau, Musée national du Chateau de Pau
Here the actual burial is placed in the background.

James Tissot, The Anointing Stone
From The Life of Christ
French, c. 1888-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

James Tissot, The Body of Jesus Carried to the Tomb
From The Life of Christ
French, c. 1888-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Maurice Denis, Burial of Jesus
French, 1903
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée Maurice Denis, La Prieure

Eric Gill, The Body of Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb
English, 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral

© M. Duffy, 2016.  Pictures updated 2023.

1.  Matthew 27:59-61; Mark 15:46-47; Luke 23: 53-56; John 19:39-42

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