Entombment of Christ

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  • Oil on canvas, 1602-03
  • 300 x 203 cm
  • Pinacoteca, Vatican

Of all Caravaggio's paintings, The Entombment is probably the most monumental. A strictly symmetrical group is built up from the slab of stone that juts diagonally out of the background.

The painting is from the altar of the Chiesa Nuova in Rome, which is dedicated to the Pietà. The desent from the cross of the corpse and the entombment are actually secondary to the Mourning of Mary which is the focal point of the lamentation.

Nothing distinguished Caravaggio's history paintings more strongly from the art of the Renaissance than his refusal to portray the human individual as sublime, beautiful and heroic. His figures are bowed, bent, cowering, reclining or stooped. The self confident and the statuesque have been replaced by humility and subjection.

Notice what might seem like a trivial detail. The stone slab makes its appearance in the picture with terrifying power. According to one's attitude, one will detect in this painting either irreverence or profound religious bewilderment in the face of the death of Christ, because it presents the meaning of the sacred event&emdash;the unique occasion &emdash;which lies in the heart of Church ritual, in a tangible visual form.

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