Saturday, August 1, 2009

Descent from the Cross

Title: Descent from the Cross

Artist: Rosso Fiorentino

Medium: Oil on wood

Size: 375 x 196 cm

Date: 1521

Location: Pinacoteca Comunale, Volterra.

As described in John 19:38-39, after Jesus had died by crucifixion Joseph of Arimathea, who had secretly been a follower of Jesus, asked Pilate for his body. With Pilate's permission Joseph, accompanied by another follower named Nicodemus, came and took the body away. Such a simple description is fraught with emotions, and has been a rich source of artistic inspiration for generations.

This painting is not simply conceived as a means of describing forms, but as a means of stating ideas. The light is not normal illumination, nor even a poetic evocation: the scene is lit as if by lightning against a somber sky. The figures are frozen in their attitudes and even in their thoughts, while the great limp body of the dead Christ, livid green with reddish hair and beard, dangles perilously as his dead weight almost slips from the grasp of the men straining on precarious ladders. The figures below have simple and forceful expressions of quiet grief, with powerful expressions hinted at by hidden faces.

Giovanni Battista di Jacopo (1494-1540), known as Rosso Fiorentino (meaning "the Red Florentine" in Italian), or Il Rosso, was an Italian Mannerist painter, in oil and fresco, belonging to the Florentine school. His masterpiece is generally considered to be the Descent from the Cross altarpiece in the Pinacoteca Comunale di Volterra. In this, and other early paintings, he departed from the milder conventions of traditional classicism and High Renaissance art. In doing so he helped launch the style known as Mannerism in 16th-century Italy, in which artists created exaggerated scenes with attenuated figures and disturbing colors.

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