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Deposition (The Descent from the Cross)
Artist: Rogier van der Weyden (Van der Weyden); Oil painting on panel; Size: 220x262 cm; Prado, Madrid

The Descent from the Cross is one of the artist Van der Weyden’s best known painting work. It was painted in 1435 for the chapel of the Confraternity of the Archers in the church of Notre-Dame-hors-les-murs at Louvain, in the Low Countries. Perhaps it is the dedication of the church to the Virgin that explains the unusual importance given to this figure in the composition, where she is represented in the act of slumping to the ground — tenderly supported by St. John and one of the Mans — in an attitude that echoes that of Christ's body. The emphasis placed on the two figures probably serves to underline Mary's importance alongside Christ in the redemption of humanity and at the same time, generates an unusual composition with a markedly horizontal character. The decision to give the space no sense of depth bestows the solidity of polychrome sculptural group on the figures, reinforced by the openwork wood carvings painted at the corners of the picture, resembling those of the aedicule and pediments used to house sculptures in high relief. In fact workshop of Robert Campin, where Van der Weyden had served his apprenticeship, also produced altars with painted panels and carvings, and it is possible that the artist's idea for this painting derived from those works. Note the painter's great virtuosity in the representation of the fabrics and flesh tones, and the innovation on the iconographic plane of the faces bathed with tears, rather unusual in contemporary Italian painting. This aspect was picked up by the Humanist Bartolomeo Pack) in his De viribus illustribus, when in a brief assessment of Van der Weyden he remarked on the artist's great capacity for the representation of sorrow.

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