Thursday, March 24, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The Thirteenth Station, The Body of Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

Stained Glass
German, 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

All of the Gospels agree that Jesus died fairly quickly and that a man named Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and requested the body. 1   We know, therefore, that by the evening hours of Good Friday the body of Jesus had been removed from the cross and hurriedly prepared for burial.

We also know, from all four Gospels, that members of Jesus’ family, including His mother, and several disciples were at Calvary during His death agony.  Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that they were also there for the removal of the body.

With these basic details in mind artists have imagined the unfolding of this tragic scene, in images known by several names: The Deposition, the Descent from the CrossThe Body of Jesus Taken Down from the Cross, all are valid titles for the same subject.  

From the Taymouth Hours
English (London), 1325-1350
London, British Library
MS Yates Thompson 13, fol. 123v
This early 14th century manuscript shows both the Deposition and, in the bottom margin, a Pieta image.

Closely related to this subject is the Pieta, in which the body of Jesus is laid on His mother’s lap as she sits on the ground.  This in itself has a rich image history, but it is not the subject that we are considering here, however.  Here we are looking only at those images that reflect the actual removal of the body from the cross.

Basilius, Deposition
From The Melisande Psalter
Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143
London, British Library
MS Egerton 1139, fol. 8v

The characters with which artists have peopled their images of the subject always include Mary, St. John and Joseph of Arimathea, always imagined as a mature, even elderly, man.  Others may be Mary Magdalene and the other holy women who followed Jesus, some of whom are named in the Gospels as being present at Calvary.  There is almost always at least one additional man, helping with the heavy task of removing the lifeless body from the cross to which it is nailed.

From the Book of Pericopes of Emperor Henry II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS BSB Clm 4452, fol. 108r

Ivory Deposition
North Italian, 1180-1200
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Romanesque Painter, Deposition
Italian , c.1180
Aquileia, Basilia Crypt

Drawing inspiration from Byzantine icons, the early images are fairly serene.  The emotions are there, especially in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who reaches out to hold a hand or to kiss the dead face.  

Deposition, From Picture Bible
French (St.Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), c.1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 20v

Crucifixion and Deposition
From Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), c.1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 24r

From a Psalter
Italian (Bologna), 1275-1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Smith-Lesouef 21, fol. 22

Master of the Baptism or Master of the Holy Spirit
From the Tres belles heures de Notre Dame de Jean de Berry
French, c. 1400-1425
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale dr France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 216r

However, as time and techniques advanced and the display of the emotions became stronger, Mary now prays or faints from grief.  Mary Magdalene too becomes more prominent and more emotive.  Probably due to her long standing interpretation as the sinful woman who bathed Christ’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, she is often seen at the feet of the corpse, touching or even kissing them. 

From the Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Belgian (Hainaut), c.1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16252, fol. 40r

Duccio, Deposition
Italian, c. 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

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

Simone Martini, Deposition
Italian, 1333
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

Rogier van der Weyden, Deposition
Belgian, c.1435
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Fra Angelico, Deposition Altarpiece (Pala di Santa Trinita)
Italian, c. 1437-1440
Florence, Museo di San Marco

Dieric Bouts the Elder, Passion Alarpiece (Center)
Dutch,  c. 1455
Granada, Museo de la Capilla Real

Jean Bourdichon, Deposition
From Hours of Frederic of AragonFrench (Tours), 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 198r

Il Sodoma, Deposition
Italian, c. 1510-1513
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale

Jan Gossart, Deposition
Flemish, c.1520
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Il Rosso Fiorentino, Deposition
Italian, 1521
Volterra, Cathedral

Jacopo Pontormo, Deposition
Italian, c.1528
Florence, Church of Santa Felicita, Cappella Capponi

Tintoretto, Deposition
Italian, c. 1547-1549
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Early in the seventeenth century the great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, set what would become the most common interpretation of the subject in Europe for the next 150 - 200 years.  This focused on the weight of the heavy body of Jesus being lowered while supported by two or more men.

Peter Paul Rubens, Deposition
Central panel of Triptych
Flemish, c.. 1612-1614
Antwerp, Vrouwenkahedraal

Peter Paul Rubens, Deposition
Belgian, 1617
Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Peter Paul Rubens, Deposition
Flemish, c.1620
Valenciennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Rembrandt, Deposition
Dutch, 1633
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinacotek

Rembrandt, Deposition
Dutch, 1634
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Charles LeBrun, Deposition
French, c.1642-1645
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Laurent de la Hyre, Deposition
French, 1655
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
LaHyre rotates the view in this unusual interpretation of the subject.

Gaspar de Crayer, Deposition
Flemish, c.1660
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Jean Jouvenet, Deposition
French, 1697
Paris, Musée du Louvre

After about the middle of the eighteenth century this strongly Rubenseque theme weakened and many different interpretations of the subject appeared.

Giandomenico Tiepolo, Deposition
Italian, 1772
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Baron Jean-Baptiste Regnault
French, 1789
Versailles, Musée National du Chateau

Eugene Deveria
French, 1835
Pau, Musée des Beau-Arts

Arnold Boecklin, Deposition
Swiss, c. 1871-1874
Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Theodore Chasseriau, Deposition
French, 1852-1855
Paris, Musée d'Orsay

James Tissot, Deposition
From The Life of Christ
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Eric Gill, The Body of Jesus is Taken From the
Cross and Laid in Mary's Bosom
English, c. 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral

© M. Duffy, 2016.  Pictures updated 2023.

1.  Matthew 27:57-59; Mark 15:42-45; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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