The Descent from the Cross (1611-14) by Peter Paul Rubens

The Descent from the Cross - Peter Paul Rubens - 1611-14

Artwork Information

TitleThe Descent from the Cross
ArtistPeter Paul Rubens
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions420 x 310 cm
Art MovementBaroque
Current LocationCathedral, Antwerp

About The Descent from the Cross

“The Descent from the Cross,” created between 1611-14, is a seminal work by Peter Paul Rubens. This magnificent religious painting, an oil on panel, epitomizes the Baroque movement in art. It measures an imposing 420 x 310 cm and currently resides in the Cathedral of Antwerp. The scale and complexity of this artwork are indicative of the grandeur that characterizes much of Rubens’ oeuvre.

The artwork vividly depicts the sorrowful moment when Jesus Christ is taken down from the cross following his crucifixion. Rubens has masterfully captured the physical weight of Christ’s body and the emotional gravity of the scene. The composition is dynamic, featuring the figures arranged diagonally, which adds to the dramatic tension. Jesus’s pale, lifeless body is the focal point, cradled by several figures in an intricate balance of sorrow and care.

Characters in the artwork are shown in various states of distress and exertion. The man on the ladder to the right strains to support Christ’s body, while the figure in green at the center appears grief-stricken, looking upwards towards the heavens perhaps in despair or prayer. The figure in radiant red, positioned on the right, helps to gently lower Christ with a tender touch, contrasting with the raw, brute effort of the others. Below them, a woman—traditionally identified as Mary Magdalene—supports Christ’s feet, her posture indicating devotion and mourning.

The use of light and shadow is stark, emphasizing the emotional intensity and adding to the three-dimensional effect of the protruding figures. The color palette is rich and deeply saturated, which is characteristic of Rubens’ work and the Baroque period. Fine details, such as the folds in the drapery and the varied expressions of agony and sorrow on the characters’ faces, demonstrate Rubens’ skillful hand and deep understanding of human emotion. Overall, this artwork is a powerful representation of a pivotal moment in Christian narrative, rendered with extraordinary artistic skill and emotional depth.

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