Imposing carved, gilded and painted wood panel, showing a Descent from the Cross in its main composition, as well as a Entombment in a lower panel. The work, dated to the mid-16th century, is a Spanish-Flemish production.
The main composition is set in a gilded wooden frame, imitating the architectural structure of an aedicula. The pediment is decorated with a central finial framed by geometric elements.
Below, metopes alternate with rectangular shapes decorated with lozenges and palmettes. Openwork sconces can be seen all around the frame, running along columns housing fine painted faces and plant elements.
The inside of the frame is lined on three sides with a black band, edged and pierced to reveal inscriptions in gold lettering. It reads: VT TOLERET CORPVS JESU / ROGAVIT PILATVM / JOSEPH ABA RIMATIA. The inscription can be translated as “To carry the body of Jesus / asked Pilate / Joseph of Arimathea”. The inscription evokes a passage from the Bible recounted in the four Gospels. In Mark’s Gospel: “When evening had already come, as it was Preparation, that is, the eve of the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, an honored member of the great council, came, also looking forward to the kingdom of God. He went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15)
The central panel depicts the Descent from the Cross. The body of Christ is then detached from the cross, surmounted by the inscriptions I.N.R.I initials of the Latin words Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (“Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews”). The dead Jesus, whose visible stigmata show a small amount of blood, is supported by three male figures, two of whom stand high up on ladders.
The first, at the top right of Christ, is a bearded man whose body contorts to pass over an arm of the cross. Identified as Joseph of Arimathea, he is balanced on the ladder as he grabs Jesus’ wrist. The second figure, at the top left of Christ, is a beardless man, barefoot on a ladder, wearing a turban and supporting Jesus’ back and arm. The latter is identified with Nicodemus. Finally, the third figure is a bearded man, similar to the first, trying to catch Christ’s body and cover it with a cloth, possibly Joseph. The two scales are positioned to create a triangle into which most of the characters fit.
The lower part of the composition shows five figures, bent or kneeling. In the center is the Virgin Mary. To his left, a long-haired man with a hand on his shoulder – this is Saint-Jean. To his right, a veiled woman, Mary Magdalene, holds his hand, her face raised to the sky in a sign of imploration. The other two figures, two praying saints, are on the right, their heads bowed and turned away from Christ’s body.
A great sadness emanates from the composition, underlined by the expressions of torment, grief and mourning on the characters’ faces. Great care is taken with the faces of the figures, whose pale flesh tones are enhanced by rosy lips and cheeks.
Each of the figures, with the exception of Christ, is dressed in long white garments highlighted by golden lines, whose folds give an impression of heaviness.
The painted background of the composition is a gray, cloudy sky, which gives way to vivid red/pink tones, suggesting sunset, thus showing the twilight of Christ’s life. Mountains are visible in the distance, as well as the buildings of a town. The two scales inscribed in a triangle date the composition to the mid-16th century.
At the base of the frame, in a reserve, a painted scene depicting the Entombment unfolds, providing narrative continuity with the scene above. The entombment involves the figures of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, placing Christ’s body on a bed. The scene is set in a rocky landscape, with urban elements suggested in the distance. The two saints appear to be dressed in contemporary fashion.
The work displays several characteristics that place it within the Hispano-Flemish movement, referring to Spanish artistic production influenced by Flemish masters who settled there from the 15th century onwards.
This composition is stylistically similar to an oil on canvas by Pieter de Kempeneer (known as Pedra de Campaña), dated 1537-1538, now in the Musée Fabre in Montpellier. A number of similarities with the wooden panel stand out: the placement of the two ladders forming a triangle where the composition unfolds, with Christ’s body at the center; the number of figures, their positions in the composition; the rocky background accompanied by the beginning of a town; and finally, the characters’ expressions of unrestrained sorrow. Pieter de Kempeneer, on the other hand, embodies the figure of the Spanish-Flemish artist, since he was a painter from Brussels who lived in Spain for 25 years, around 1537.
This wooden panel is a majestic work of art from 16th-century Spain, and an important testimony to the art of the period, demonstrating brilliant craftsmanship combining sculpture, gilding, painting and scenography.

Descent from the Cross – Hispano-Flemish – 16th century

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