Today is the day of the Deposition from the Cross. I would like to share with you some paintings on the subject that goes hand in hand with “Pieta”, but is more public. Pieta is a more private, more intimate grieving process, whereas the “Deposition” is open to the public, and manifests the drama of Humanity, as opposed to the personal drama of Mary who grieves for her child.
Rogier van der Weyden
Deposition (c. 1440)
Museo del Prado, Padrid, Espagna
This is one of all times favourite paintings. The colours are brilliant, the composition static and dynamic at the same time, and the painting is powerful in conveying the emotions of the tragic process. I love the golden background, this glorious light in the moment of facing and contemplating Death. The figures are life sizes, each one of them tells a story. A visit to the Prado with all of its treasures is incomplete without viewing this masterpiece of late Gothic Art.
Galleria Borghese, Roma, Italia
With Bronzino, the problem of “beauty” is even bigger, as he was a master of making everything look beautiful! You look at the little angels and it is like they are just having a good time! And why not? They are kids and have no idea about what is happening down there! And another point: how on Earth can everyone look so beautiful? There is no ordinary face around, all of them are glazed with beauty! Having said all that, the contrast with Christ is stark. Mary seems more puzzled than in grief, while the only grieving person in the composition is Mary Magdalen on the right side.
Deposition from the Cross (c. 1604)
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Roma, Italia
The Deposition, considered one of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces, was commissioned by Girolamo Vittrice for his family chapel in S. Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova) in Rome. In 1797 it was included in the group of works transferred to Paris in execution of the Treaty of Tolentino. After its return in 1817 it became part of Pius VII’s Pinacoteca.
Caravaggio did not really portray the Burial or the Deposition in the traditional way, inasmuch as Christ is not shown at the moment when he is laid in the tomb, but rather when, in the presence of the holy women, he is laid by Nicodemus and John on the Anointing Stone, that is the stone with which the sepulchre will be closed. Around the body of Christ are the Virgin, Mary Magdalene, John, Nicodemus and Mary of Cleophas, who raises her arms and eyes to heaven in a gesture of high dramatic tension.
Caravaggio, who arrived in Rome towards 1592-93, was the protagonist of a real artistic revolution as regards the way of treating subjects and the use of colour and light, and was certainly the most important personage of the “realist” trend of seventeenth century painting.
Source: Vatican Museums Online
With the master of darkness, we are now back to the depiction of the drama! Here we have real people, everyone looks in a different way and angle, the faces are dark, and Death envelopes the composition as a dark cloud.