Rogier van der Weyden 1399/1400 – 1464
oil on panel (220 × 262 cm) — 1435 Museo del Prado, Madrid
This work is linked to John 19:39
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This is the oldest work that with some degree of certainty may be attributed to Rogier van der Weyden; the master never signed his work. If this is the case, it is probably also his most impressive work. As an altarpiece it was intended for a chapel in Leuven, but fell into Spanish hands in the 16th century. Today, it is on display in the Prado in Madrid.
In the center, Jesus is taken down from the cross by a bearded Joseph of Arimathea and a well-dressed Nicodemus. Christ's pale body forms an arch with the upper arm of the woman on the left: Mary Magdalene, known by her low-cut dress.
Christ's body is almost immaculate apart from his wounds; the holes in his hand and feet, the blood on his forehead from his crown of thorns, and the cut inflicted by a Roman spear.
The woman in blue is Mary, Jesus' mother. Her immense grief causes her to faint. In her fall, her body takes on the same shape as her son's, implying that her suffering is close to his.
The skull on the foreground reminds us that we are looking at Golgotha, the Mount of Skulls. (There is a straight line across the painting between the skull's eyes and the eyes of Nicodemus.)
Despite all the action and people participating in it - ten in all - Van der Weyden manages to create an atmosphere which is both convincing and intimate without a sense of crowdedness.
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