This painting depicts the scene after Christ’s descent from the cross and before his entombment. The Virgin Mary leans over the body of Christ while Mary Magdalen kneels at his feet. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and lamenting women complete the circle of mourners. This work features Rubens’ characteristic fluid brush work, vivid coloring, and use of dramatic lighting effects.
This work is one of several small oil paintings on copper that Rubens painted while in Italy. Copper, traditionally used for etchings and engravings, became popular as a painting support during the sixteenth century.
The back of the painting bears the seal of the noble Colonna family of Rome. The work is listed in the 1783 inventory of art treasures in the Colonna palace outside Rome. From 1605 to 1606, Rubens’s brother Philip was secretary and librarian to Cardinal Ascanio Colonna (1559–1608), and it is likely that the Cardinal commissioned this picture. It was later given to the painter Giuseppe Cades (1750–1799), whose signed declaration of ownership remains on the back.