|Andrea Mantegna, Lamentation Oer the Dead Christ|
Italian, ca. 1490
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera
Probably the most astonishing image of the second of these types, the Dead Christ, comes from the brush of Andrea Mantegna, one of the great north Italian painters of the Quattrocento. Often called the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, it shows the body of Jesus, depicted in excruciating detail, in extreme foreshortening, with the nail-pierced feet immediately before our eyes. It is barely a Lamentation, receiving the title only because of the partial inclusion of two people, a man and a woman, at the extreme left edge. The woman is sometimes identified as Mary, but I am doubtful about this. Rather, I think these are two older people of Mantegna’s era and not the richest of his contemporaries either. The woman is shown wiping her eyes, the other figure (presumably a man) is barely visible in profile. This startling image, combining the 1st-century corpse with 15th-century people, still startles us as it must have startled his contemporaries.
This image, not idealized, detailed, even brutal, became a model for other artists to follow. And, although it was never a popular image, there were followers. Among them were other artists with a realistic, almost scientific bent: Hans Holbein the Younger, Philippe de Champaigne and Giuseppe Sammartino.
In these images we are presented with “just the facts”, a dead body, a cadaver.
|Hans Holbein the Younger, The Dead Christ in the Tomb|
|Philippe de Champaigne, The Dead Christ|
French, Prior to 1654
Paris, Louvre Museum
Giuseppe Sammartino, Dead Christ in a Shroud
Naples, Santa Maria della Pieta dei Sangro
In the third type, the Dead Christ tended by angels, we see something very different. These images have a deep relationship with the Man of Sorrows image, especially the form of the Man of Sorrows in which Jesus is supported by another person. But, in this variation, the humans have been replaced by angels.
The angels are sometimes sad and sorrowing, sometimes busy working on preparation for the Resurrection. They support and prepare His physical Body for its new, glorified existence.
|Giovanni Bellini, Dead Christ Supported by Angels|
Italian, ca. 1474
Rimini, Pinacoteca Comunale
Not surprisingly, Venetian artists, like Bellini, were among the first to adapt the Man of Sorrows image to that of
the Dead Christ supported by angels.
|Rosso Fiorentino, Dead Christ Supported by Angels|
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
Rosso portrayed a typically Mannerist image of a contorted, unstable body barely supported by the angels.
|Paolo Veronese, Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels|
Berlin, Staatliche Museen
|Guercino, Angels Mourning the Dead Christ|
London, National Gallery of Art
1. See also "O Key of David! Come, break down the walls of death" at http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2011/12/o-key-of-david.html
© M. Duffy, 2012