Rembrandt van Rijn
Descent from the Cross by Torchlight
Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, Descent from the Cross by Torchlight, 1654, Etching and drypoint on paper; 21.1 x 16.2 cm (8 5/16 x 6 3/8 inches) (plate), Gift of Henry D. Sharpe 49.078
In this emotional Descent from the Cross by Torchlight, Rembrandt portrayed the physical act of lowering Christ’s body. The diagonal of the descent is intersected by the horizontal of Christ’s limp form, mirrored in the white shroud lovingly laid out below by Joseph of Arimathea. Below Christ’s head, the artist depicted a single, well-lit hand reaching up from the darkness as if in the hope of salvation. Rembrandt was among the first to explore extensively the possibilities of etching as an expressive medium. For Christ’s face, he scratched directly into the plate (drypoint), thereby creating an eloquent shadow of death. The heavily worked background contrasts with the sketchiness of the foreground and demonstrates Rembrandt’s characteristic use of extreme darks and lights in the service of spiritual pathos.