The Descent from the Cross

Rembrandt (1634)

Van Gogh said that what made Rembrandts work eternal was his sympathy for humankind”, and this picture radiates unforgettably tender compassion. Look at the shape of Christ, limp and laden with death, and Mary, whose poleaxing grief looks like another kind of death. The tense, taciturn men are contrasted with the more open grieving of the women (in the Gospels, the women are named and they take delicate care of Jesusbody). But this is about light, too: how it defines time past, present and future: what has happened to Christ, what is happening (to the grieving mother and crowd), and what will happen, with a burial cloak laid out like a cradle. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. By framing Christ as the light, with those who grieve for him and mourn him bathed in the light of sympathy and grace, he reminds us that this is a story about redemption and love.