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Descend from the Cross

Grão Vasco, Francisco Henriques1501-1506

Grão Vasco National Museum

Grão Vasco National Museum

Panel from the former altarpiece of the chancel of Viseu Cathedral (1501-1506).
Placed diagonally, the body of Jesus Christ is removed from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and St. John the Evangelist. Mary Magdalene, in a state of expressive agitation, watches the action, with her back turned, and with one knee on the ground. In the bottom right corner is the Virgin, also displaying a most expressively dramatic attitude and holding the shroud. The scene is completed with a third female figure.
To suggest the depth of the space and to insert the figures into the scene with some verisimilitude, the representation of a tuft of vegetation assumes great visibility, outlining the shape of St. John’s foot and Mary Magdalene’s dress.
Similarly placed on the upper third row of the altarpiece, the Descent from the Cross is one of the most interesting themes in the series of the Passion, whose figurative materials are generally afforded a more simplified treatment than in the panels representing the scenes from the Life of the Virgin Mary and the Childhood of Jesus. The mark of its position in the group of paintings is clearly shown by the oval "frame", defining a cloudy sky that united all the panels on the last row, with the sole exception of the Pentecost, whose action necessarily takes place in an interior space.
It should be borne in mind that the great height of these altarpieces called for their observers to adopt a position that gave them a distorting angle of vision, which, to some extent, justifies the frequent mistakes made in terms of figuration when the paintings are seen from close up and at a lower height, as well as some pictorial simplifications.
On the right of this panel is a repetition of the hill topped by a bush stripped of all its leaves, which also figures in the composition of the panel with the theme of Christ’s Arrest. The more expressive faces, especially those of the Virgin and the holy woman, and Mary Magdalene’s evident agitation, together with the intensity of the colours, give the scene its necessary sense of drama.

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  • Title: Descend from the Cross
  • Creator: Vasco Fernandes, Francisco Henriques
  • Date Created: 1501-1506
  • Location: Grâo Vasco Nacional Museum, Viseu, Portugal
  • Location Created: Panel of the former altarpiece of the chancel of Viseu Cathedral, 1501-1506
  • Physical Dimensions: 133 cm x 81 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on oak wood

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