The Descent from the Cross (Rubens)
|Artist||Peter Paul Rubens|
|Type||Oil on panel|
|Dimensions||420.5 cm × 320 cm (165.6 in × 130 in)|
|Location||Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp|
The Descent from the Cross is the central panel of a triptych painting by Peter Paul Rubens in 1612–1614. The painting is the second of Rubens's great altarpieces for the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium, along with The Elevation of the Cross. The subject was one Rubens returned to again and again in his career. This particular work was commissioned on September 7, 1611, by the Confraternity of the Arquebusiers, whose Patron Saint was St. Christopher.
Although essentially Baroque, the oil on panel piece is rooted in the Venetian tradition, and likely influenced by the work of Daniele da Volterra, Federico Barocci and Cigoli, amongst others. In its composition and use of light, the triptych recalls Caravaggio's Roman period.
Theophile Silvestre wrote, in his "On Rubens' Descent from the Cross - 1868":
“The principal subject is composed of nine figures: at the top of two ladders, workers are lowering the body of Christ with the aid of a shroud which one of them holds in his teeth, the other in the left hand. Bracing themselves firmly against the arms of the cross, each bends forward to guide the Christ with the hand that is left free while St. John, with one foot on the ladder and his back arched, supports him most energetically. One of Savior’s feet comes to rest on the beautiful shoulder of the Magdalene, grazing her golden hair. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, placed midway on ladders so as to face each other, form, together with the two workmen in the upper part of the picture, a square of vigorous but plebeian figures. The Virgin, standing at the foot of the sacrificial tree, extends her arms towards her Son; Salome (properly, Mary Cleophas), kneeling, gathers up her robe. On the ground are seen the superscription and a copper basin where the crown of thorns and the nails of the Crucifixion lie in the congealed blood. The crowd, always elated by the spectacle of torture, has departed from Golgotha as daylight fades. After the sacrifice of Calvary, as it is called in Scripture, the sad, dark sky is crossed by a light that illumines the shoulders of the workmen, whose bold posture recalls the composition by Daniele da Volterra".
In addition to the original work for Antwerp, Rubens painted two other versions exploring the same theme.
|Version||Date Painted||Current Location|
|1616–17||Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille|
In popular culture
In Ouida's novel A Dog of Flanders the main characters Nello and Patrasche wish to see both Rubens' "Elevation of the Cross" and "Descent from the Cross" for once in their life. It serves as the climax of the story, as they both sneak inside the Antwerp Cathedral on a freezing Christmas Eve to witness the beauty of the painting. The next day they are found frozen to death in front of the triptych.
- Białostocki, Jan. "The Descent from the Cross in Works by Peter Paul Rubens and His Studio". The Art Bulletin, Volume 46, No. 4, December 1964. 511-524
- Rooses, Max (1904). Rubens. Volume I. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. p. 171.
- "The masterpiece of Peter Paul Rubens, The descent from the cross from the collection of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg". 2000.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Descent from the Cross (1612–1614, Antwerp) by Peter Paul Rubens.|
- Jaffé, M. (1989). Catalogo completo di Rubens. Rizzoli.
- Martin, John R. (editor). Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces - The Raising of the Cross and the Descent from the Cross - Norton Critical Studies in Art History. Norton & Company.