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This painting was probably once the centre panel of a triptych (a painting made up of three sections) showing episodes from the Passion (Christ’s torture and execution). The dead Christ hangs from the Cross, and three angels collect the blood from his wounds in chalices.
On the left are the Virgin Mary and Saint John, while Mary Magdalene kneels at the foot of the Cross. The man in the lower right corner pointing towards Christ is apparently the Roman centurion who exclaimed, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Matthew 27: 54).
There are many stylistic similarities with drawings and paintings attributed to Jan de Beer, and it may have been painted by an artist trained in his workshop.
This painting was probably once the centre panel of a triptych showing episodes from the Passion. The dead Christ hangs from the Cross, and three angels collect the blood from his wounds in chalices. On the left are the Virgin Mary and Saint John, while Mary Magdalene kneels at the foot of the Cross. The man in the lower right corner pointing towards Christ is apparently the Roman centurion who exclaimed, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Matthew 27: 54).
The panel appears to have had an arched(?) top but before 1817–18 was cut down and enlarged to its present shape. Similar arch-topped Crucifixions in an Antwerp Mannerist style (a flamboyant style of painting which flourished in the 1520s, primarily in that city) are often the centre panels of triptychs with scenes of Christ carrying the Cross and the Resurrection on the wings. The left wing of the triptych from which this came could very well be the Christ carrying the Cross sold at Christie’s Amsterdam in 2010. It had been treated in the same way and is painted in a closely similar style.
Infrared photographs and reflectograms give us an insight into how the painter arrived at this composition. There is much underdrawing and many changes, as he seems to have combined and adapted elements from different sources. The layout of the scene – with the crucified Christ between the Virgin and Saint John on the left and two soldiers on the right – and the figures of the angels and Mary Magdalene are paralleled in prints by Schongauer and Dürer. The underdrawn figure of Christ is less elongated than the painted figure, and Mary Magdalene was originally placed in front of rather than behind the Cross. A related drawing (now in the Louvre, Paris) includes similar figures (but also represents others and omits the angels).
A possible explanation for these resemblances is that the artist, asked to paint the Crucifixion, decided to work from the Louvre drawing or from one very similar. Knowing that angels were to be included he decided to raise the Cross and the crucified Christ and to exclude various figures. This would have produced an underdrawing like the one revealed in reflectograms of this picture. He then decided to base his three angels on ones in German prints and to replace his figure of Mary Magdalene with one taken from a Dürer woodcut. Only at that stage did he establish the reserves (areas left temporarily blank and later filled in with objects or figures) for Mary Magdalene and Saint John. There is no visible underdrawing for the corresponding painted figures. He perhaps altered the proportions of Christ’s body and shortened his loincloth to make them agree more closely with those of the angels.
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