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Michelangelo: 'The Entombment'

This unfinished painting shows Christ's body being carried to his tomb. There is some disagreement over the identity of the various figures represented. Saint John the Evangelist is usually shown in red with long hair, and may be the figure on the left carrying Christ. The others are probably Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea who gave up his tomb for Jesus. The kneeling figure to the left is probably Mary Magdalene and the woman at the back right is a Holy Woman (Mary Salome). The Virgin is prepared in outline in the bottom right corner.

The picture came from a collection in Rome, and is thought to be connected with payments made to Michelangelo between 1501 and 1502 relating to an altarpiece for Sant Agostino in Rome which he failed to deliver. This would explain the unfinished state of this painting.

'The Entombment' is generally accepted to be by Michelangelo, since the treatment of the figures links closely with other works by him of this period. The kneeling figure on the left appears to meditate on something in her raised hand. A drawing by Michelangelo in the Louvre, Paris, is clearly a preparatory study for this figure and shows her with the crown of thorns and the nails with which Christ had been crucified.

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From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Forty, February 2010


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