Thoughts on the painting by Peter Paul Rubens.
One of the first things that struck me is that all of the figures in Rubens’ picture are fair skinned. It is highly unlikely that this would have been the case, though the two men, I take to be Joseph of Arimathea’s servants, leaning over the cross bar to Lower Christ’s body, do have that swarthy outdoor look about them.
The next thing that caught my attention is the colour of John’s clothing; red the colour of blood. The robe is very close in colour the the blood on Christ’s body, but this in itself I think is the wrong colour. Blood turns darker, almost brown as it dries.
All the characters in Rubens’ picture appear in one of the gospels, though not all in the same gospel. Nicodemus presence in this scene is only recorded in the gospel of John.
Another aspect of the picture that caught my attention is the title, The Descent From The Cross. Particularly the use of “Descent”.
Descent usually means to move down, fall or drop. What we see in Rubens’ picture is not just descent by moving down, but being taken down, or lowered. A physical act by a group of Jesus’ friends, family and followers, not of his own action.
If we think again of descent in a spiritual, instead of physical sense, it might have a different, allegorical meaning. The Apostles Creed tells us that:
He descended to the dead. (In some versions hell, instead of dead)
On the third day He rose again.
So it is possible that the title was a deliberate choice of words, to indicate that the picture is not solely depicting the physical act of taking Jesus down from he cross, so that he could be entombed.