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Descent from the Cross, scene taken from a living Via Crucis.

The Descent from the Cross (Greek: Ἀποκαθήλωσις, Apokathelosis), or Deposition of Christ, is the scene, as depicted in art, from the Gospels' accounts of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking Christ down from the cross after his crucifixion (John 19:38-42). In Byzantine art the topic became popular in the 9th century, and in the West from the 10th century. The Descent from the Cross is the 13th Station of the Cross.

Other figures not mentioned in the Gospels who are often included in depictions of this subject include St. John the Evangelist, who is sometimes depicted supporting a fainting Mary, and Mary Magdalene. The Gospels mention an undefined number of women as watching the crucifixion, including the Three Marys, (Mary Salome being mentioned in Mark 15:40), and also that the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene saw the burial (Mark 15:47). These and further women and unnamed male helpers are often shown. [1]. The Two Thieves, Dismas and Gestas, are sometimes present. They are depicted already dead, with their legs broken after Crurifragium has been applied to them.

Development of the image

Even in early depictions the details and posing of the composition, and especially the position of Christ's body, are varied. The scene was usually included in medieval cycles of the Life or the Passion of Christ, between the Crucifixion and the Entombment of Christ. The Lamentation of Christ, or Pieta, showing the body of Christ held by Mary, may intervene between these two, and is common as an individual image, especially in sculpture. The Bearing of the body, showing Christ's body being carried to his tomb, and the Anointing of Christ's body, showing the body laid flat on the top of the tomb or a similarly-shaped "anointing-stone" are other scenes that may be shown. This last is especially important in Orthodox art, where it is shown on the Epitaphios.

With the Renaissance the subject became popular for altarpieces, partly because of the challenges of the composition, and the suitability of its vertical shape. The Mannerist version of Rosso Fiorentino is usually regarded as his most important work, and Pontormo's altarpiece is perhaps his most ambitious work. The subject was painted several times by both Rubens and Rembrandt, who repeated one of his paintings (now in Munich) in a large print, his only one to be mainly engraved, as well as making two other etchings of the subject.


  • Codex Grecus 510 (9th century Byzantine, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris)
  • Codex Egberti (ca. 980, Trieri city library).
  • St Albans Psalter - English Romanesque miniature (ca. 1130-45) [1]
  • Externsteine relief (12th century)
  • Toros Roslin (13th century) [2]
  • Byzantine Museum of Kastoria (ca. 1400) [3]
  • Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross (ca. 1435, Museo del Prado, Madrid)
  • Nicolas Mostaert (1579) [4]
  • Rubens (1611-14, Antwerp cathedral) The Descent from the Cross
  • Rembrandt (1634, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg) [5] [6] [7]
  • Athens, Benaki Museum No. 3001 (ca. 1700) [8]
  • John Baptist Jackson, (1738) [9]
  • Gustave Doré [10]
  • Max Beckmann (1917) [11]
  • Enrique Miguel de la Vega [12]
  • The Deposition from the Cross (1528) by Jacopo Pontormo at the Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicita, in Florence.
  • Fra Angelico, Deposition of Christ, executed between 1432 and 1434, now in the National Museum of San Marco, Florence.
  • Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ (1602–1603), now at the Vatican Pinacoteca.
  • Eastern Orthodox Icons of the Descent from the Cross.[13]
  • The Epitaphios used during Holy Week[14]
  • The Antimension [15]

See also


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Descent from the Cross. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. G. Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II, 1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, p.164, ISBN 853313245

External links