In this dramatic Descent, an episode related by the four Evangelists, the figure of Joseph of Arimathea on the right picks up the body of Christ with the help of Nicodemus, while St John supports the Blessed Virgin, who has fainted from sorrow. The five characters fill the composition, virtually covering the golden ground with black dots –a Gothic archaism of Flemish tradition– in the two upper corners. Painted with great technical precision, the superimposition of layers of colour is beautiful, in spite of the erosion and the transparencies of the pictorial layer.
This work could have derived from a lost prototype by Rogier van der Weyden, for such complex compositions and forced perspectives are characteristic of his works. The figure of the Virgin is inspired by the Madonna painted by Van der Weyden around 1435 in his Descent from the Cross kept in the Prado Museum. He also sought inspiration in Hugo van der Goes for the figure of Joseph of Arimathea, probably based on the bearded man holding a curtain in The Adoration of the Shepherds of 1480, now kept in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. Four other versions of The Descent from the Cross attributed to Colyn de Coter exist, all of which follow a similar pattern; the one that presents a greater likeness to this one is housed in the Museo Civico in Messina.
Colyn de Coter was active between the years 1480 and 1525, appearing as a master in the guild of painters of Antwerp in 1493. However, he worked chiefly in Brussels, where his archaic and eclectic style was marked by the influence of Rogier van der Weyden. In 1509 he was registered as a master in the Brussels guild of St Eloy and his workshop welcomed a great number of disciples. [A.S.L.]
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