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Descent from the Cross by Torchlight

One of printmaking’s greatest innovators, Rembrandt was able give familiar subjects, such as scenes from Christ’s passion, a fresh approach. In some of his earlier depictions of this subject, Rembrandt used a more traditional composition focused on the body of Jesus at the center of the image. However, in this interpretation, he moved the main action to the upper left corner and almost completely blocked the view of Christ’s form. He further obscures the action with a dark palette, intensified by the use of fuzzy drypoint lines and plate tone. His selective use of the white highlights—on Christ’s limbs (illuminated by a torch), the shroud, and on the single hand lifted up toward Christ’s head—directs the viewer’s eye through the composition and intensifies the dramatic impact of the scene. Instead of an iconographic display for public devotion, this work offers a hauntingly human moment—the removal of the dead Christ by his bereaved followers in the dark of the night.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Dutch, 1606–1669
Descent from the Cross by Torchlight
1654
Etching and drypoint on paper
Image: 8 ½ x 6 5/16 in. (21.6 x 16.0 cm); sheet: 8 7/8 x 7 in. (22.5 x 17.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, William H. Conroy Memorial, 74.12