The Descent from the Cross (Rubens, 1600–1602)

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, descent from the cross (1600-1602), 203x257cm,Siegerland-Museum, Siegen, Oberes Schloss
Michelangelo Pieta Bandini, Florence
Francesco Marcoleoni, copy of the descent from the cross (1611), 127x143cm (50x56in), cut
For the painting by this artist of the same title for Antwerp Cathedral, see The Descent from the Cross (Rubens).
Rubens Kreuzabnahme Bleistiftskizze.jpg

Descent from the Cross is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens in 1600–1602 as his first major commissional work made for the private chapel of Eleonora de’ Medici Gonzaga (1567–1611), duchess of Mantua. The discoverer of the painting was the art historian Prof. Justus Müller-Hofstede. His special subject is the early Rubens.[1]


The large-sized altarpiece revolutionizes the usual illustrations of Jesus' Descent from the Cross of the Cinquecento and engrosses the idea of the holy Eucharist: The kneeling lady in the foreground as a symbolic embodiment of the duchess who receives the Body of Christ like a lover for supper (cf. John 6:54-59).[2] Stylistically, the painting is comparable to another early work created approximately at the same time: „The Elevation of the Cross“ for the chapel of the church Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which offers the same perspective to the mourning group of women.[3]


Rubens knew the descent from the cross (pieta bandini) by Michelangelo, either by an engraving by Cherubino Alberti or he saw the pieta personified in Rome.Engaged by the duchess of Mantua, Eleonora Gonzaga, Rubens joined a competition (paragone) with the sculptor and created a new composition. Rubens adjusted the commissional work for the duchess Eleonora de’ Medici in Mantua exactly to the dimensions of the reredos. Rubens as the creator of the painting is proven archivally since it was copied by the court painter Francesco Marcoleoni in 1611 (after the duchess' death) for the church Santa Maria Assunta in Susano.

The historic text describes Marcoleoni's copy and Rubens' original reference as follows: [...] Un Christo che togliono di croce, che coppiò messer Francesco Marco Leone che viene da Pietro Paolo Fiamingo, et è originale nella capella di Santa Croce di sopra in Corte [...].

After early drafts (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg), Rubens devoted himself also in later periods to the idea of the Descent from the Cross, among them the famous triptych The Descent from the Cross (Rubens) in Antwerp, the Descent from the Cross in Lille, in Saint Petersburg (Russia) und in Arras (1610).[4]

St. Petersburg, Hermitage, (1604-1614)


  • Rubens, Eleonora de’ Medici Gonzaga e l’oratorio sopra Santa Croce. Pittura devota a corte. Ausstellungskatalog Mantua, Palazzo Ducale. Electa, Mailand 2005, ISBN 88-370-4007-5.
  • Justus Müller Hofstede: Rubens’ neu entdeckte Kreuzabnahme für Eleonora Gonzaga, Herzogin von Mantua. In: Gerhard Finckh, Ilka Hartje (Hrsg.): Peter Paul Rubens. Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal 2012, ISBN 978-3-89202-085-1, p. 50–65.
  • Jan Braet (2005): Van het donker naar de klaarte. Knack Magazine, 35(36), p. 28–31.
  • Jan Braet (2005): Rubens was een herkauwer. Knack Magazine, 35(37), p. 116–121.
  • Jürgen Hohmeyer (2006): Der Mann mit den zwei rechten Händen. Weltkunst - Die Zeitschrift für Kunst und Antiquitäten, München, 76(8): p. 78–82.
  • Marijnissen, R. H., & Voorde, G. (2009): The masters’ and the forgers’ secrets: x-ray authentication of paintings from early Netherlandish till modern. Mercatorfonds. p. 340–346.
  • Jan Braet (2009): We moeten van onze pretentie af. Knack Magazine, 02.12.2009, p. 74–78.
  • chapel of Eleonora Gonzaga, ca 1600, reconstruction
    Logan, A. (2007): Rubens's drawings after Julius Held. Oud Holland, 120(3/4), 160-180.
  • . .
  1. ^ Justus Müller Hofstede wikipedia
  2. ^ Justus Müller Hofstede (2005-09-21), FAZ (ed.), Eucharistie unter dem Kreuz (in German), pp. N3
  3. ^ Peter Paul Rubens: Die Kreuzaufrichtung (1601)
  4. ^ [1]

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