Cornelis Engebrechtsz (Netherlandish, 14681527)
Oil on wood; 24 1/4 x 35 1/4 in. (61.5 x 89.5 cm)
Gift of Coudert Brothers, 1888 (88.3.88)
Isolated against a dark sky, the crucified Christ occupies the center of this dramatic, boldly symmetrical composition. The pale coloring of Christ's lifeless, stretched body and the distorted appearance of his head, tilted pathetically to the side, convey a poignant image of death. While the grieving Virgin emulates the posture of her son, suggesting her empathetic suffering, Saint John the Evangelist looks upward in pain at the vision of his dead mentor. The identity of the two richly dressed but austerely characterized donors, who were most probably husband and wife, is unknown. They may have been named after Peter and Margaret of Antioch, the patron saints who stand behind them, presenting them to the holy figures in the center of the composition. Mary and John thus serve as intercessors between Christ and the donors, who kneel at the prie-dieux, on which their rosary beads are visible. In a direct reference to the Eucharist, three angels, painted in a gray-blue monochrome that blends into the background, fill their chalices with Christ's blood. The turbulent energy, twisted postures, elegant clothing, and jarring color scale of this work became hallmark traits of the mature, Mannerist style of Cornelis Engebrechtsz. One of the leading painters of sixteenth-century Leiden and the teacher and collaborator of Lucas van Leyden, Engebrechtsz adapted some of the dramatic power of the Antwerp Mannerists to develop a uniquely expressive character in his work.