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Rogier Van Der Weyden | The Descent from the Cross, c. 1435

The Descent from the Cross was commissioned by the Greater Guild of Crossbowmen of Leuven in today's Belgium and was originally installed in the Chapel of Our Lady Without the Walls. The tiny crossbows in the side spandrels of the picture reflect the original patronage. De Vos and Campbell both give an approximate date of 1435 for the painting.
De Vos argues that the earliest known copy of Van der Weyden's Deposition, the Edeleheere triptych in Leuwen, may have been completed by 1435, certainly before 1443. This implies that Van der Weyden's painting pre-dates it. The painting was exchanged around 1548 for a copy by Michael Coxcie and an organ.

The new owner was Mary of Austria, sister of Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, for whom she governed the Habsburg Netherlands.
The painting was initially installed in Mary's castle at Binche, where it was seen by a Spanish courtier, Vicente Alvárez, who in 1551 wrote:
"It was the best picture in the whole castle and even, I believe, in the whole world, for I have seen in these parts many good paintings but none that equalled this in truth to nature or devoutness. All those who have seen it were of the same opinion".
The Descent from the Cross was acquired by María de Hungría in the sixteenth century and passed down to her nephew, Felipe II, who placed it in the chapel at the El Pardo Palace. In 1574, it was moved to El Escorial, where it remained until it was brought to the Prado Museum in 1939 in exchange for the copy by Michel Coxie.

Alvárez had accompanied the future king of Spain, Philip II on his tour of his possessions in the Netherlands.
After acquiring the Descent from his aunt Mary, Philip transported the painting to Spain, where it was installed in his hunting lodge, El Pardo.

On 15 April 1574, the painting was recorded in the inventory of the monastery palace which Philip had founded, San Lorenzo de El Escorial:
"A large panel on which is painted the deposition from the cross, with our Lady and eight other figures ... by the hand of Maestre Rogier, which used to belong to the queen Mary".
When Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936, many religious works of art were destroyed.
The Spanish Republic took action to protect its artistic masterpieces; The Descent from the Cross was evacuated from El Escorial to Valencia.
It was brought to Switzerland by train in the summer of 1939, where the Spanish Republic publicized its plight with an exhibition: "Masterpieces of the Prado", held in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva. That September, the painting returned to the Prado, where it has since remained.

By 1992, the Descent was in a state of decay with cracks in the panel threatening to split the painting, and a marked deterioration of the paint surface.
A major restoration of the painting was carried out by the Prado, under the supervision of George Bisacca from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Descent from the Cross/or Deposition of Christ, or Descent of Christ from the Cross, is a panel painting by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden created c. 1435, now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. The crucified Christ is lowered from the cross, his lifeless body held by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
The c. 1435 date is estimated based on the work's style, and because the artist acquired wealth and renown around this time, most likely from the prestige this work allowed him. It was painted early in his career, shortly after he completed his apprenticeship with Robert Campin and shows the older painter's influence, most notable in the hard sculpted surfaces, realistic facial features and vivid primary colours, mostly reds, whites and blues.
The work was a self-conscious attempt by van der Weyden to create a masterpiece that would establish an international reputation. Van der Weyden positioned Christ's body in the T-shape of a crossbow to reflect the commission from the Leuven guild of archers (Schutterij) for their chapel Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Ginderbuiten (Notre-Dame-hors-les-Murs).
Art historians have commented that this work was arguably the most influential Netherlandish painting of Christ's crucifixion, and that it was copied and adapted on a large scale in the two centuries after its completion.
The emotional impact of the weeping mourners grieving over Christ's body, and the subtle depiction of space in van der Weyden's work have generated extensive critical comments, one of the most famous being, that of Erwin Panofsky: "It may be said that the painted tear, a shining pearl born of the strongest emotion, epitomizes that which Italian most admired in Early Flemish painting: pictorial brilliance and sentiment".

In their accounts of the descent of Christ's body from the Cross, the evangelists relate the story only in connection with the Entombment of Christ. According to the canonical gospels, Joseph of Arimathea took Christ's body and prepared it for burial. John (19:38-42) adds one assistant, Nicodemus. None of these accounts mention Mary.
During the Middle Ages, the narrative of the Passion became more elaborate, and more attention was paid to the role of Christ's mother. One example is the anonymous 14th-century text, Meditationes de Vita Christi, perhaps by Ludolph of Saxony. Barbara Lane suggests this passage from the Vita Christi might lie behind many paintings of the Deposition, including Rogier's: "Then the lady reverently receives the hanging right hand and places it against her cheek gazes upon it, and kisses it with heavy tears and sorrowful sighs".

Art historian Lorne Campbell has identified the figures in the painting as (from left to right): Mary Cleophas (half-sister to the Virgin Mary); John the Evangelist, Mary Salome (in green, another half-sister of the Virgin Mary), The Virgin Mary (swooning), the corpse of Jesus Christ, Nicodemus (in red), a young man on the ladder - either a servant of Nicodemus or of Joseph of Arimathea, Joseph of Arimathea (in field-of-cloth-of-gold robes, the most sumptuous costume in the painting), the bearded man behind Joseph holding a jar and probably another servant and Mary Magdalene who adopts a dramatic pose on the right of the painting.
There is disagreement between art historians as to the representation of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Dirk de Vos identifies Joseph of Arimathea as the man in red supporting Christ's body, and Nicodemus as the sumptuously dressed man supporting Christ's legs, the opposite of Campbell's identification.

Since its creation the work has been often copied and is extremely influential; within van der Weyden's own lifetime it was considered an important and unique work of art. In 1565, the Antwerp publisher Hieronymus Cock published an engraving by Cornelis Cort, the first graphic reproduction of Rogier's Descent, which is inscribed with the words "M. Rogerij Belgiae inuentum". Cock's engraving is the earliest record of Rogier's name in association with the Deposition.
In 1953 art historian Otto Von Simson claimed that "no other painting of its school has been copied or adapted so often".
In a 2010 episode of the BBC documentary series The Private Life of a Masterpiece which examined the history and influence of The Descent From The Cross, Professor Susie Nash of the Courtauld Institute of Art commented, "It seems that the innovation that van der Weyden made were so striking that other artists throughout Europe, almost could not get away from them. They are quoted again and again and again". Nash concluded, "I think there's a very, very strong case to be made that this is the most important painting of the whole period of the entire 15th century".
In January 2009 Google Earth's collaborative project with the Prado made twelve of its masterpieces, including Descent from the Cross, available at a resolution of 14,000 megapixels, some 1,400 times greater than a picture taken on a standard digital camera.

La Deposizione dalla Croce è un'opera di Rogier van der Weyden, olio su tavola (220×262 cm), databile al 1433-1435, considerata uno dei capolavori dell'artista. È conservata nel Museo del Prado a Madrid.
La pala era la parte centrale di un trittico parzialmente scomparso. Secondo una testimonianza del 1574 nelle ante laterali erano raffiguranti, in una, i quattro evangelisti e, nell'altra, una resurrezione. L'opera fu eseguita per la chiesa di Notre-Dame nella città belga di Lovanio, su commissione della gilda dei balestrieri.
L'apprezzamento che essa riscosse fu subito molto grande, prova ne siano le innumerevoli copie che ne sono state tratte, a partire da quella realizzata già nel 1443, la più antica che si conosca, per la collegiata di San Pietro, sempre a Lovanio, nota come Trittico Edelheere.
Con la dominazione degli Asburgo di Spagna dei Paesi Bassi e delle Fiandre la tavola entrò in possesso dapprima di Maria d'Ungheria, che a sua volta ne fece dono a Filippo II di Spagna, grande estimatore della pittura fiamminga, che la collocò nel monastero dell'Escorial. Di seguito essa confluì nelle collezioni reali collocate nel Museo del Prado, attuale sede del dipinto.
Il dipinto ha l'insolita forma di una "T" rovesciata e molto probabilmente era originariamente corredato da sportelli che permettevano la chiusura dell'immagine principale al di fuori di certe feste religiose.

Il grande pannello evita la divisione per scomparti ed usa appieno le possibilità offerte dalla pala unitaria, disponendo le figure sul registro orizzontale, in particolare quella di Gesù e di Maria, che ricalca la posa del primo a sottolineare la sua partecipazione anche fisica alle sofferenze del figlio.
Il dipinto è ambientato in un ambiente esiguo, una specie di finta intercapedine con intagli lignei agli angoli, che sembra molto meno profonda di quanto non siano le figure, le quali si stagliano invece con un forte senso plastico, per contrasto.
I gesti sono contratti e le linee sono spesso spezzate che ricorrono ritmicamente e con simmetrie. Le figure sono collocate in profondità e talvolta assecondano l'andamento della cornice, come le figure curve della Maddalena, all'estrema destra, e di san Giovanni, sul lato opposto.
L’ambientazione in una nicchia illusionistica rimanda allo schnitzaltar cioè quel tipo di altare, tipico dell’Europa del Nord e dell’area tedesca in particolare, in cui al centro, tra le ante richiudibili, non vi è una tavola dipinta bensì un gruppo ligneo scolpito ad intaglio, spesso policromo.

Quasi a voler suggerire che l’oggetto della raffigurazione non è la reale rappresentazione della Passione (vi sarebbe un’ambientazione naturale), né una sua astrazione mistica (saremmo allora in presenza di un fondo d’oro, che nella simbologia bizantina, ripresa nell’arte medievale e tardogotica, astrae le figure dallo spazio per collocare in una dimensione eterna), bensì un gruppo scultoreo magistralmente dipinto.
Il perno è la figura esangue del Cristo, in posizione obliqua. La partecipazione fisica ed emotiva di Maria sembra rievocare i "Misteri" e testi popolari all'epoca come L'imitazione di Cristo, che proponevano di rivivere religiosamente ed emotivamente le sofferenze di Cristo. Il coinvolgimento del fedele in dipinti come questo è evidente e sembra voler chiarire con immediatezza il modello che tali Misteri proponevano a un pubblico più selezionato.
Fermo restando, una certa libertà di figure e di forme, l'opera trasmette un rigore tematico religioso, che non arresta il flusso di sentimenti, di caratteri, di tragicità, di emozioni, immerso in una struttura tecnica elevata, fine e particolareggiata.
Derivata da Jan van Eyck è l'abilità nella resa dei materiali più disparati tramite le sottili variazioni dei riflessi della luce. L'ampia cappa damascata di Giuseppe d'Arimatea è un perfetto esempio di questa abilità, aiutata dalla tecnica ad olio.