Lamentation of Christ (Mantegna)

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The Lamentation over the Dead Christ
The dead Christ and three mourners, by Andrea Mantegna.jpg
ArtistAndrea Mantegna
Yearc. 1480
MediumTempera on canvas
Dimensions68 cm × 81 cm (27 in × 32 in)
LocationPinacoteca di Brera, Milan

The Lamentation of Christ (also known as the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, or the Dead Christ and other variants) is a painting of about 1480 by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. While the dating of the piece is debated, it was completed between 1475 and 1501, probably in the early 1480s.[1] It portrays the body of Christ supine on a marble slab. He is watched over by the Virgin Mary and Saint John and St. Mary Magdalene weeping for his death.

External video
Andrea Mantegna, lamento sul cristo morto, dettaglio.jpg
video icon Mantegna's Dead Christ, tempera on canvas, c. 1480 – 1500 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, 18 February 2017, Smarthistory[2]

Mantegna may have made this painting for his personal funerary chapel. It was found by his sons in his studio after his death and sold off to pay debts. The painting is now in the Pinacoteca di Brera of Milan, Italy.[3]


The theme of the Lamentation of Christ is common in medieval and Renaissance art, although this treatment, dating back to a subject known as the Anointing of Christ, is unusual for the period. Most Lamentations show much more contact between the mourners and the body. Rich contrasts of light and shadow abound, infused by a profound sense of pathos. The realism and tragedy of the scene are enhanced by the perspective, which foreshortens and dramatizes the recumbent figure, stressing the anatomical details: in particular, Christ's thorax. The holes in Christ's hands and feet, as well as the faces of the two mourners, are portrayed without any concession to idealism or rhetoric. The sharply drawn drapery which covers the corpse contributes to the dramatic effect. The composition places the central focus of the image on Christ's genitals - an emphasis often found in figures of Jesus, especially as an infant, in this period, which has been related to a theological emphasis on the Humanity of Jesus by Leo Steinberg and others. The space the figures are present in appears to be confined, small, and somber, indicating to be a morgue.[4]

Content and Analysis[edit]


By the way Christ is painted, viewers have difficulty in pinpointing the real dimensions of Christ’s body. Mantegna shows a strong understanding for perspective; however between Christ’s rather large torso, hands and feet that are depicted to be closer to the spectators, it is hard to tell the size of his proportions. Art historian Hubert Schrade points out, “the agitation of dimension of the work, which allows immediate proximity but denies any intimacy.” While there is the feeling that the viewers are up close at his feet, there is no sense that they would be able to personally reach out to his body or be physically a part of this scene. Despite the light, warm colors and tone of the painting, the tragedy of the scene does not hold back the invitation to mourn.

Many different scholars have analyzed this scene and came at different standpoints for the reasoning. One German scholar in particular, Hans Jantzen, perceived that the perspective of the painting was more orthogonal. To him, this was a perspective when painted to be of the highest meaningful value.   


This painting is one of many examples of the artist's mastery of perspective. Mantegna has already showcased his skill of perspective through his "Camera degli Sposi" creation in Mantua and he shows it again here. At first glance, the painting seems to display an exact perspective. However, careful scrutiny reveals that Mantegna reduced the size of the figure's feet, which, as he must have known, would cover much of the body if properly represented.[5]

Being placed at eye level at Christ’s feet, directly in front of his open wounds, invites the viewers to remember the reason for his death. Mantegna presented both a harrowing study of a strongly foreshortened cadaver and an intensely poignant depiction of a biblical tragedy. Although this may be a painful reminder of Jesus Christ's suffering prior to this event, it allows the viewers to feel somewhat hopeful. In addition to this, the use of scherzo is further applied within the scene. In the topic of music, scherzo is usually referred to as the lighthearted, playful segment of a symphony. [6] Applying this to the painting, there's a slight feeling of light, hope, and promise from what Christ has offered to everyone. Although Christ has died for everyone's sins, but as sorrowful as it may be, three days later he is to rise again. The painting is another mirror to the Middle Ages inscriptions on images related to a Christ on the cross or the Passion of the Lord that would say, “Aspice qui transis, quia tu mihi causa doloris (look here, you who are passing by, for you are the cause of my pain).”[7] In addition to being in front of his open injuries, the fabric Christ lays on indicates that this is the time to mourn before he is to be buried. The stone in which Christ lays on is also known as the Stone of Unction, or the Stone of Anointing. This is the very stone slab in which Christ's body is laid onto right after being crucified. Not only are viewers expected to mourn, but they are also given the feeling that they cannot reach out and touch his body. Another art historian, Hubert Shrade, comments on this, saying "None of the mourners dare touch the corpse, He is untouchable."

Another symbolic meaning of being presented feet first in perspective is to indicate that the individual has lost a battle or war. However, it is usually applied when the individual is a degenerate or a loser who lost due to some form of unfortunate events, whether it's by a flood or a type of misfortune. This is especially used as imagery for those who were denied of holy or divine protection. Mantegna shows his intelligence by doing this but also his brave, risky behavior of daring to paint one of the most holy figures in such a position.[8]

Although this concept is an option, it is also worth noting that the feet are also the lowest, courteous parts of the human body. Magdalene, who is present among the individuals in the painting, was someone who washed Christ's feet with her tears and hair as an act of the highest respect and to beg for forgiveness.

In the painting, Christ’s head is somewhat turned away from Mary, John, and Mary Magdalene to face the direction of the illumination. This is depicted to symbolize the teachings and promise of God when one is nearing the end of their lifespan.


  1. ^ Krén, Emil; Marx, Daniel (1996). "Mantegna, Andrea". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  2. ^ "Mantegna's Dead Christ". Smarthistory. Khan Academy. Archived from the original on 4 July 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  3. ^ "The Dead Christ". Turismo Milano. Comune di Milano. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  4. ^ Godfrey, Roger. Andrea Mantegna: Paintings in Close Up. N.p.: Osmora Incorporated, 2015.
  5. ^ Kleiner, Fred S. Mamiya, Christin J.; Gardner, Helen (eds.). Gardner's Art Through the Ages (13th ed.).
  6. ^ Finaldi, Gabriele (2003), "Mantegna, Andrea", Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, retrieved 2020-11-21
  7. ^ Finaldi, Gabriele (2003), "Mantegna, Andrea", Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, retrieved 2020-11-21
  8. ^ Eisler, Colin (2006-01-01). "Mantegna's Meditation on the Sacrifice of Christ: His Synoptic Savior". Artibus et Historiae. 27 (53): 9. doi:10.2307/20067108.


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  • Kleiner, Frank S. Gardner's Art Through the Ages, 13th Edition, 2008
  • Manca, Joseph. Andrea Mantegna and the Italian Renaissance, 2006
  • Andrea Mantegna: Making Art (History). United Kingdom: Wiley, 2015.
  • Johnston, Kenneth G. "Hemingway and Mantegna: The Bitter Nail Holes." The Journal of Narrative Technique 1, no. 2 (1971): 86-94. Accessed November 19, 2020.