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Giovanni Bellini, 'The Dead Christ supported by Two Angels', about 1465-70

Key facts
Full title The Dead Christ supported by Two Angels
Artist Giovanni Bellini
Artist dates about 1435 - 1516
Date made about 1465-70
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 95 × 71.7 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924
Inventory number NG3912
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
The Dead Christ supported by Two Angels
Giovanni Bellini

This type of image of Christ after his death – close up, showing his naked torso – originated in Byzantium (the Eastern Christian empire) but was very popular in Italy from about the thirteenth century. It was supposed to promote meditation upon Christ’s suffering and death.

Christ is supported by two angels who hold his arms to prop him upright. The resulting pose highlights not only the weight and inertia of his dead body but also its physicality – it is thrust towards us, challenging us to contemplate it. This stark confrontation is emphasised by the dark background and the strong lighting, reminiscent of the fashion for portraits in this period.

The resulting sculptural effect shows the influence of the Florentine sculptor Donatello, who tackled this subject several times. Bellini probably knew Donatello’s version of the subject sculpted in marble for the high altar of the cathedral in Padua, which includes supporting angels – Donatello’s inventive addition to the standard image.

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