The Descent from the Cross

The Descent from the Cross
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Year 1612-1614
Medium Oil on panel
Location Location
Dimensions 165.6 in × 130 in
420.5 cm × 320 cm
Famous Paintings by Peter P. Rubens
Samson and Delilah
The Descent from the Cross
Prometheus Bound
The Raising of the Cross
Adoration of the Magi
Consequences of War
Complete Works

The Descent from the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens is a stunningly powerful depiction showing the body of Jesus being removed from the cross after his crucifixion – a theme that Rubens returned to repeatedly in his brilliant career.

The painting is the center piece of a triptych. The first panel shows a pregnant Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, and the latter panel shows a baby Jesus being presented in the Temple.

But the central panel, The Descent from the Cross, is typical Rubens power. There are eight figures in the scene along with the spent figure of Jesus – who is ghastly ashen-white and bloody. He is being tenderly removed with the aid of workmen on two ladders, and a blonde Mary Magdalene below, whose shoulder is serving as a brace for the foot of Jesus.

Behind Mary Magdalene is Mary Cleophas adorned in purple, and above her is the Virgin Mary, dressed more simply in purple. The mother of Jesus is extending her arms in grief toward her fallen son.

Also represented in the painting is the uncle of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. They are positioned opposite of each other midway up ladders on either side of Jesus. To the right of Mary Magdalene on the ground, but with one foot on the ladder, is St. John, who is arrayed in bright red robes.

The white body of Jesus and his white shroud, along with the red of St. John’s clothing, provide a vivid contrast with surroundings that are generally rendered in darker colors. The sky is dark, brooding and ominous.

Rubens completed this triptych between 1612 and 1614. It was commissioned as an altarpiece for the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. This is an oil-on-panel creation, and although the style is considered Baroque, it is clearly influenced by the Venetian school.

The Descent from the Cross still graces the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp today, and would have to be considered to be among the world’s most priceless masterpieces.

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