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Video transcript

we're in the Brera in Milan we're looking at one of Andre amante Nia's most extraordinary and most famous paintings this is the dead Christ Montaigne son called it the foreshortened Christ and this way of representing Christ so foreshortened is really unusual in art history well certainly I've never seen anything like this no Montaigne was fascinated throughout much of his career with extreme perspectives you might think about st. James being led to his execution where you have a view upward foreshortening is often used by Renaissance artists to create an illusion of space an illusion of depth but here Montaigne is using it to draw us in to make us feel as though we're at Christ's side at this moment after he's been taking down off the cross he's been placed on this stone his body is ready to be anointed and shrouded and placed in the tomb one of the comments that people often make when they look at this and I think about that kind of very careful perspective of structures that are being developed in the 15th century is that this is in fact distorted that is the feet are much too small and in fact it's a kind of odd distortion as you move up the body where the body seems to grow in size but what's fascinating is when you stand in front of the painting at least for me the feet are seen almost through our peripheral vision and our eyes are drawn right up to the face no question we're drawn to that look of suffering we don't have an image of Christ that transcends human suffering there's real pain etched on his forehead the way that his eyebrows have been pressed together there's a sense of his humanity here there is this incredible sense of physicality we are so far away from the medieval conception of the dead Christ that is transcendent and completely divorced from any kind of pain here just look at the wounds in the hand or in the feet is it almost clinical accuracy look at the way in which the skin has dried and it feels like it might even be sharp look at how Montaigne EAA's lifts up the hands as though he wants to show us Christ's wounds the hands are propped up in the same way that the head is propped up by the pillow well those are all most the only verticals now we've been focusing on Christ and the body of Christ for good reason but Christ is not the only figure here we seem to be in the tomb itself it's dark but we can make out that there are three other figures closest to us we can just barely make out the profile of Saint John the Evangelist next to him is an unusual rendering of the Virgin Mary who's quite old here and clearly suffering seeing her son die but just beyond Mary can just make out Mary Magdalene and the reason that we know it's her is because on the stone you can see a jar of the ointment that Mary Magdalene used to anoint Christ's feet we often see that jars and attribute of Mary Magdalene so we know that this painting still belonged to Montaigne at the time of his death in other words it was never delivered to a patron and so this has led art historians to speculate that perhaps it was rejected by the patron because of its extreme focus on the dead body of Christ in this literal way and it's intense foreshortening it's also possible that Montaigne painted this for his personal use we're just not sure we're also not sure if perhaps the intended patron if there was one was somebody who was focusing on the wounds of Christ right someone whose devotional practice was focused on the wounds of Christ someone who perhaps especially venerated what's known as the Stone of unction the stone that his body was laid on for anointing so these are all questions what we do know is that this is a painting that in so many ways exemplifies the changes that are taking place in Italian art in the 15th century where you have this increasing focus on the physicality of Christ we begin to see in the later part of the 1400s images of Christ of the Saints depicted very close to us it's likely that this is related to ideas of the image as a kind of prompt to meditate on Christ's suffering to imagine what it was like to be at the crucifixion to put ourselves they are at the tomb at this moment