The Descent from the Cross (Rubens, 1612-1614)

For other paintings of this subject by the same artist, see The Descent from the Cross (Rubens).
The Descent from the Cross
Descent from the Cross (Rubens) July 2015-1a.jpg
ArtistPeter Paul Rubens
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions420.5 cm × 320 cm (165.6 in × 130 in)
LocationCathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp

The Descent from the Cross is the central panel of a triptych painting by Peter Paul Rubens in 1612–1614. It is still in its original place, the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium, along with another great altarpiece The Elevation of the Cross. The subject was one Rubens returned to again and again in his career. This particular work was commissioned on September 7, 1611, by the Confraternity of the Arquebusiers, whose Patron Saint was St. Christopher.


Although essentially Baroque, the oil on panel piece is rooted in the Venetian tradition, and likely influenced by the work of Daniele da Volterra, Federico Barocci and Cigoli, amongst others.[1] In its composition and use of light, the triptych recalls Caravaggio's Roman period.

Theophile Silvestre wrote, in his "On Rubens' Descent from the Cross – 1868":

“The principal subject is composed of nine figures: at the top of two ladders, workers are lowering the body of Christ with the aid of a shroud which one of them holds in his teeth, the other in the left hand. Bracing themselves firmly against the arms of the cross, each bends forward to guide the Christ with the hand that is left free while St. John, with one foot on the ladder and his back arched, supports him most energetically. One of Savior’s feet comes to rest on the beautiful shoulder of the Magdalene, grazing her golden hair. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, placed midway on ladders so as to face each other, form, together with the two workmen in the upper part of the picture, a square of vigorous but plebeian figures. The Virgin, standing at the foot of the sacrificial tree, extends her arms towards her Son; Salome (properly, Mary Cleophas), kneeling, gathers up her robe. On the ground are seen the superscription and a copper basin where the crown of thorns and the nails of the Crucifixion lie in the congealed blood. The crowd, always elated by the spectacle of torture, has departed from Golgotha as daylight fades. After the sacrifice of Calvary, as it is called in Scripture, the sad, dark sky is crossed by a light that illumines the shoulders of the workmen, whose bold posture recalls the composition by Daniele da Volterra".

In 1794, Napoleon removed this painting and The Elevation of the Cross and sent them to the Louvre. After his defeat, they were returned to the cathedral in 1815.[2]

Other versions

In addition to the original work for Antwerp, Rubens painted two other versions exploring the same theme.[3]

Version Date Painted Current Location
La descente de croix Rubens.jpg The Descent from the Cross (Rubens, 1617) 1616–17 Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
Descente de croix rubens.jpg 1617–18 Hermitage Museum



  1. ^ Białostocki, Jan. "The Descent from the Cross in Works by Peter Paul Rubens and His Studio". The Art Bulletin, Volume 46, No. 4, December 1964. 511–524
  2. ^ Rooses, Max (1904). Rubens. Volume I. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. p. 171.
  3. ^ "The masterpiece of Peter Paul Rubens, The descent from the cross from the collection of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg". 2000.


  • Jaffé, M. (1989). Catalogo completo di Rubens. Rizzoli.
  • Martin, John R. (editor). Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces – The Raising of the Cross and the Descent from the Cross – Norton Critical Studies in Art History. Norton & Company.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

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