Nicolas Poussin, 'The Lamentation over the Dead Christ', 1657-60.

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1657

Oil on canvas, 94 x 130 cm
Purchased, 1882

This moving late work by Poussin depicts the moment after Christ's body has been embalmed and just prior to the placing in the tomb, when Christ's mother and a few of his disciples reflect on and grieve his death. Joseph of Arimethea kneels in the entrance of the tomb; St John raises Christ’s head on to his lap; Mary Magdalene kisses his hand, while behind her is the 'other Mary' (both are mentioned in the gospels of Mathew and Mark). The jar and basin refer to the anointing with 'myrrh and aloes to preserve the body' (John 19:39).

The expression of grief is largely concentrated in the upright figure of the Virgin, who wipes a tear away with her cloak. Standing apart, she indicates her acceptance of the sacrifice of her son, for the salvation of man, with the gesture of surrender she makes with her left hand. Her role preludes the message of the steadfast strength of faith in the imminent Resurrection, alluded to by the stark tree bearing new shoots. The drama is further increased by the use of intense and vibrant colours. The aging Poussin has conceived the Lamentation as a meditation and reflection on death.

View a selection of French Paintings