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Annibale Carracci, The Dead Christ Mourned ('The Three Maries')

Key facts
Full title The Dead Christ Mourned ('The Three Maries')
Artist Annibale Carracci
Artist dates 1560 - 1609
Date made about 1604
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 92.8 × 103.2 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, 1913
Inventory number NG2923
Location Room 37
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Dead Christ Mourned ('The Three Maries')
Annibale Carracci

This is perhaps the most poignant image in the National Gallery’s collection of the pietà – the lamentation over the dead Christ following his crucifixion. It was a subject to which Annibale Carracci returned frequently, especially during the last decade of his life.

Here, the limp and lifeless body of Christ lies in the lap of his mother, the Virgin Mary. A distraught Mary Magdalene kneels on the right, hands raised and mouth open in a wail of anguish. At the back an older woman in dark green reaches out towards the fainting Virgin, whose weight is supported by a fair-haired young woman.

The composition is built on strong diagonals and our eye is guided around the picture by colour, gaze and expression. Annibale has skilfully concentrated our attention on each figure and her emotional response in turn. His ability to paint different emotions is exactly what appealed to later admirers of this painting, which brilliantly combines formal classicism with intense human sentiment.

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