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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:09

Video transcript

(jazzy music) Male: We're looking here at Rogier van de Weyden's deposition dated to 1435. It's a very large painting. It is about 7 feet tall and 8.5 feet wide, representing Christ being removed from the cross. Female: Right, that's what deposition means, right? Male: Exactly. Female: He's being deposed or removed from the cross. Male: And they're about to place him in his mother's lap, the Virgin Mary, who's fainted from grief at the crucifixion. Female: This is one of those standard moments when artists represent the life of Christ. Male: Right. Yeah. Female: So after this might be the lamentation and then the entombment and then the resurrection Male: Exactly, then the resurrection that follows. In a way, we could talk about this image as a typical Flemish painting from the early to mid 1400s. Female: Yeah, it looks very obviously Northern Renaissance to me. It's got those heavy, very heavy, complicated angular folds of drapery that we see on Mary, also some figures at the far ends. Male: The paper-like angular folds, the rather elongated figures that are crammed into a small space. Those figures are about life size. Female: Also that gold embroidery on the figure just to the right of Christ; the way that there's that interest in the light shining on that metallic embroidery is very Northern Renaissance. Male: The rendering of texture, especially, as it's effected by light. Female: His fir collar. Male: The fir collar, the faces, the hair, the fabric; everything has this meticulous, almost microscopic attention to detail and texture that's typical of a Northern painter. Female: Even those plants down at the bottom have been so carefully observed. Male: Also this would not be mistaken for anyone but van der Weyden, because even though those are all general characteristics of Flemish art from the period, there are some things that he does that are quite different from other contemporaries. Female: Right. We don't see that deep space that we see, for example, in van Eyck in the Ghent Altarpiece. Male: Exactly. Van der Weyden's compositions are usually confined to a very, very shallow space that really pushes the figures right up against the front of the picture plane. It truly enhances the dramatic quality. Female: And the emotional quality. Male: The emotional quality. Then, of course, that goes hand-in-hand with the very emotional behavior of the people in his paintings. Female: Yes. Male: Oftentimes the Flemish painters painted people who looked not so emotional. But van der Weyden instead gives them great emotional intensity, like we see in this figure of one of the Marys who is crying. Her nose is red. There are tears coming down her cheek. Female: Yeah, real tears. Male: Here you can really talk about the attention to the effects of light as the light reflects off of, but also refracts through the tears that are flowing down her cheek. Someone once brought to my attention the tear that's at the very corner of her mouth. As you're looking at that, it almost looks like it's about to go into her mouth, and as you're looking at it, it's almost as if you can taste what a tear tastes like. Female: You want to sort of put your tongue over there to catch it. Male: Exactly. It really helps you to empathize and makes you feel like you're there in front of these people. Female: Which was the idea, right? Male: Exactly, as a devotional tool. Female: Look at that tiny little pin holding her headdress. I never noticed that before. Male: Also, the way that you can still see all the creases that have been ironed into the white fabric. Female: They loved to do that, those creases in the fabric. It's fabulous. Male: Absolutely. All of these things helped differentiate it in a way. Speaking about this particular image, there's a few things worth noting. As we said, Christ is being lowered from the cross. He's headed down towards his mother's lap. What's interesting is the way that van der Weyden has essentially echoed their poses. The position that Christ is in is very much like the one that Mary is in. It creates a kind of wavelike downward and leftward movement through the composition that underlines the direction of his body in this narrative. Female: And eventually lowered even into the tomb. Male: And into the tomb itself. Also, they're linked in their posture. Female: Their arms hanging down. Male: Because that helps link them in terms of who they are. This is mother and son. They share a relationship with each other that is not shared with anyone else in the painting; therefore, their similar poses establish that link. Female: And I think we're supposed to empathize here with Mary, too, and what this moment must have been like for her. Male: As we see, she's extremely pale, not only because she's pure and virginal, but here also because she's fainted. I think there's a connection there, too, because Mary has fainted, but she will, like other people who faint, soon regain consciousness and wake up again. I think we need to understand a connection to Christ in this painting too because, although he's dead, having died on the cross, according to traditional Christian teaching three days later he will be resurrected from the grave. So I think there's an important link between her having fainted and his having died. Female: So maybe we're being reminded, in a way, of the resurrection. Male: It's foreshadowing that, absolutely. Female: Something that I always think about is that skull down there, which one is tempted to think of as a momento mori, as a reminder of death, but actually is part of another traditional Christian teaching. Male: It could be remind you of death, but its more literal meaning is that there was a belief that Christ was crucified on the spot where Adam, from Adam and Eve, was buried. So frequently you see a skull and bones at the foot of the cross, that are supposed to be representing Adam. Just as Adam was the old man of the Old Testament, Christ is in a way the new Adam, the birth and the presence of the new man under the Christian law of the New Testament. Female: Right. So Adam having caused Adam and Eve, having caused the fall of mankind into sin and Christ and Mary redeeming mankind from that original sin. Male: Right. Female: It's a beautiful painting. Male: One other thing we can talk about briefly is the way that van der Weyden arranges his composition. We talked about the positioning of Christ and Mary but I'd also call you attention to the fact that there are four people on the left, but only three people on the right. You might expect that that would throw the composition off kilter and make it seem off balance, but what he's done is, you'll notice the figures on the right, where's there's only three people, have much more elaborate clothing, with fancy brocade, or Mary Magdalene on the far right is in clothing with three or four different colors, whereas everyone on the left is in plain, solid clothing with no patterns, very few colors used. That helps simplify that side, compensating for the additional figures over there. Female: So that they sort of seem more balanced visually. I also always noticed how the figures on either end are kind of curled inward to sort of focus our attention to the center, on Christ; almost like brackets that enclose the image. Male: Right, exactly. (jazzy music)