The Descent from the Cross
Derick Baegert ( German, 1435 - 1514 )
- c. 1480-1490
This impressive painting was probably part of a large altarpiece featuring scenes related to the life and death of Jesus Christ. The Descent from the Cross illustrates the immediate aftermath of Christ’s crucifixion, when Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus retrieve Christ’s lifeless body. In the foreground, the Virgin Mary, Christ’s mother, is collapsed in grief and comforted by Saint John. Behind them, Mary Salome raises her hands in distress. In the upper right, the artist depicts the Virgin and Saint John during an earlier moment in the story as they travel to the crucifixion site. In the upper left is a town likely intended to represent Jerusalem.
A master of illusionistic realism, Derick Baegert carefully rendered each protagonist’s face with the precision and individualism of a portrait. His technical virtuosity and attention to the smallest details observed from life, such as the wrinkles in Christ’s skin around Mary Magdalene’s fingertips, heighten the scene’s emotional impact. Baegert’s inclusion of contemporary elements in a biblical narrative is typical of medieval and Renaissance painting. In addition to the 15th-century northern European architecture in the background, the women wear luxurious fabrics and complex headdresses that reflect the latest courtly fashions in northwest Germany. Baegert created the effect of shimmering brocade fabrics by modeling the design in gesso and covering it with eye-catching gold leaf.
Nicole Myers, DMA label copy, 2018.