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Death watch.


ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN DEPICTS the people in his Deposition in an intensely realistic manner. Though a few bones and scraggly plants lie at their feet, the setting is not Golgotha. Instead, a wall and bits of tracery describe a shallow niche, as if this is a grouping of statues in a church.

The painting did originally hang above the altar in a Belgian chapel. Van der Weyden places the scene in a church to identify the Savior's death with the Mass that would have been celebrated beneath it. This juxtaposition illustrates a common understanding of the Eucharist as the reenactment-though unbloody--of the sacrifice of Calvary.

By dressing everyone in 15th-century clothing, the artist displays the death of Christ as a current event rather than a distant moment separated from the lives of the faithful. Though the men tend toward European stoicism as they stay busy with their tasks, the women unabashedly display their grief.

Some will recognize this scene as the 13th Station of the Cross. It is a painting calculated to move hearts and minds, to make the dying of Jesus a present reality rooted in the sacramental life of the church.

By JERRY BLEEM, O.F.M., a priest and artist who teaches at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Image: Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1399-1464), Deposition, ca. 1436, oil on wood, 86.6 x 103.2 inches, collection of Museo del Prado, Madrid.

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Title Annotation:eye of the beholder
Author:Bleem, Jerry
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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