Christ on Cross
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Descent from the Cross, (1611-13), The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

Descent from the Cross

Peter Paul Rubens

In 1611 Rubens was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the chapel of the guild of the Arquebusiers (part of the civic watch; the arquebus was a type of firearm) in Antwerp Cathedral. This work is likely to have been presented to the guild and the cathedral custodians for approval before work started on the large altarpiece.

Christ’s lifeless body is being removed from the cross, in a scene of intense grief. His mother Mary (in blue) reaches forward, desperate to touch her son. In spite of this the movement of Christ’s body seems graceful and peaceful. The tension between pain and beauty gives this painting great power.