After his death on the Cross, Christ was laid in a tomb and the entrance was sealed with a great stone. A day later, three of his followers, all women by the name of Mary, came to the tomb to anoint his body with spices. To their astonishment, the stone had been removed and the tomb was empty. An angel revealed that Jesus had risen. In the painting, the three Marys gaze at God’s messenger in wonder. The sentries are asleep and oblivious to what is taking place. The work is rendered in minute detail. A variety of plants can be seen in the foreground, the gleaming cuirass worn by one of the guards reflects the scene around him, and diminutive figures, visible only with the aid of a magnifying glass, stroll through the streets of Jerusalem, the city depicted in the background.
The attribution of the painting has given rise to some debate. It was long considered the work of Hubert van Eyck, Jan’s mysterious elder brother. However, it has also been credited to Jan, possibly in collaboration with Hubert. Though some believe it was executed only after their death, it can be dated with reasonable accuracy to the period 1425 to 1435. We will probably never know whether the brothers actually had a hand in it.