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Van der Weyden, Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden, Deposition, c. 1435 (Prado, Madrid) Speakers: David Drogin and Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Edward Nakhla
    At reference to the skull in the painting is made. Should we not interpret the skull in the painting as an allusion to Golgotha, the Aramaic word for Place of a Skull? Jesus was taken to Golgotha to be crucified as indicated in Mark .
    (22 votes)
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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user bubaloo.bek
    Why is Jesus always cut in the same place? Is there some scripture in the Bible that supports that?
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Marisa Infante
    In the middle there are three figures, Jesus, and two other figures. Are the other figures supposed to be representative of God and the Holy Spirit? Thus making the three central figures the Holy Trinity?
    (3 votes)
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  • female robot amelia style avatar for user SMG
    Why are the upper corners of the painting missing? Were they even there to begin with?
    (6 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Wolfgang Demmel
      Based on altarpiece shapes at the time, this "inverted T" was common an used both formally and symbolically. A complete discussion of the shape can be found in: Lynn F. Jacobs, “The Inverted “T”-Shape in Early Netherlandish Altarpieces: Studies in the Relation between Painting and Sculpture,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 54 Bd., H. 1 (1991): 33-65. Also a discussion in English is at http://albertis-window.com/2011/02/the-inverted-t-shape/ Most often the inverted T-shape was formed by three panels but not as a polyptych. I believe van der Weyden who was a innovator for his time used the shape to frame his scene to be cramped within the T and the shallow space to show the finality the event.
      (5 votes)
  • old spice man green style avatar for user John
    "There is a traditional Christian believe that Christ was crucified on the spot where Adam was buried". Anybody know of a scriptural reference to this? What denominations believe this?
    (5 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Aaron Milavec
      Already in Paul's letter to the Romans, Jesus is understood as the "new Adam" who undoes the failure of the "first Adam" (-18). In the second century, Irenaeus contrasts the "old Adam" who brought death into the world because of his eating of the tree in the Garden of Eden with the "new Adam" who overcame death because of his dying on the tree of the cross. At the same time, the legend of Jesus preaching to the dead in Hades (after his death on the cross) takes root, and in the Gospel of Bartholomew (3rd cen.) Jesus is presented as menacingly descending the stairs of a thousand steps into the underworld. Hades, the god of the underworld, trembles as he descends. Having arrived, Jesus "shattered the iron bars," pummels Hades "with a hundred blows and bound him with fetters that cannot be loosed" (19). Here now, one has a commando rescue operation designed to save "Adam and all the patriarchs" (9). Jesus specifically says to Adam, "I was hung upon the cross for your sake and for the sake of your children" (22). Jesus’ death is here understood, not as a penal substitution, but as the necessary means for gaining access to the underworld whereby he might destroy the power of Hades and release those who imprisoned by demonic powers. Hades is the pagan god guarding the underworld. By destroying Hades, Jesus is able to release not only the generation of Noah but also all generations going all the way back
      to Adam himself. In the medieval period, the rescue operation is imaginatively and artistically presented by showing how the sacred blood of Jesus seeps into the earth following the earthquake and finds its way into the mouth of the skeleton of Adam who was buried below the cross. This legend is recounted on a brass plaque at the entrance of the current Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In brief, we are dealing here with the growth of a legend that links the rescue of Adam with the death of Jesus (the New Adam).
      In some medieval paintings, the skull of Adam is shown buried below the cross of Jesus. The skull in Van der Weyden's Deposition is in the wrong place; hence, I think it is safer to say that the artist puts the skull here because Golgatha is referred to as "the place of the skull" in Matt . As an example of Adam buried below the cross, see Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, 1435.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Wolfgang Demmel
    More a comment on the shallow scene space cited in the video: the setting may allude to the numerous wooden depositions that are part of the Northern Renaissance tradition at the time. These carved depositions were often part of the church's main polyptych altarpiece opened at Easter on Good Friday. Also, there was a rich tradition of mystery plays shown on a shallow portable stage that went from village to village depicting the stages of the cross.
    (3 votes)
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  • starky tree style avatar for user JackDestiny
    On the lower left of the painting there's a skull, What does this mean?
    (1 vote)
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    • leafers seed style avatar for user Mark  Venema
      Understanding the crucifixion as the "place of the skull" or "Golgotha", would most likely have been the first understanding of the meaning of the image of the skull at that time in history. Today there are traditional sites in Jerusalem that use this name and several first person accounts in the gospels refer to this name.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Amy
    Did they have live models to model for paintings like this one? Or, was this all done freely?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Kathryn.rekau
    Did I miss something? What is the purpose of the two large white rectangles on the upper left and right? For me they make the painting appear cramped, as if the space is to small for what the artist is trying to paint. I also want to know what is behind them.
    (1 vote)
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  • leafers sapling style avatar for user Erin  Mcbreen
    Where is this painting's current location?
    (1 vote)
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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)