Friday, April 1, 2011

Descent from the Cross

Title: Descent from the Cross
Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 297 x 200 cm
Date: 1617-18
Location: The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

John 19:38-40 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

John's account of the burial may continue to develop the theme of Jesus' royal identity. The large amount of spice used obviously expresses their love for Jesus, and such excessive amounts of spice were a feature of at least some royal funerals. Plenty of people besides kings had extravagant funerals and were buried in garden tombs, but given all the emphasis in the Passion account on Jesus as king, such details seem to continue this theme here at the burial.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (June 1577 – May 1640) was a prolific seventeenth-century Flemish painter, and a proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. Rubens was one of the most methodically assimilative and most prodigiously productive of Western artists. His abundant energy fired him to study and emulate the masters both of antiquity and of the 16th century in Rome, Venice, and Parma. His warmth of nature made him responsive to the artistic revolutions being worked by living artists, and robust powers of comprehension nourished his limitless resource in invention. He was able to infuse his own astounding vitality equally into religious and mythological paintings, portraits, and landscapes. He organized his complex compositions in vivid, dynamic designs in which limitations of form and contour are discounted in favor of a constant flow of movement. Rubens's major business was altarpieces, particularly suitable for an artist who enjoyed working on a grand scale.

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