(b. 1484/85, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, 1545, Strassburg)

The Lamentation of Christ

c. 1518
Lime panel, 141,3 x 96 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Kneeling beneath the crosses of Calvary, the Virgin mourns her Son whose body lies before her. John supports the dead Christ's head, while Mary Magdalene, her long hair flowing, lifts one of His hands to her cheek. Behind John stands Joseph of Arimathaea with an anointing-vessel, and behind the Virgin rises the upright of the bare cross, stained with the blood of the crucified Saviour; on the tree next to it can be seen the bound foot of one of the thieves. Beyond is a rocky landscape with a castle on the edge of a lake.

Apart from the Berlin panel, the theme of the Lamentation occurs in only one other painting by Baldung. The picture in the Landesmuseum at Innsbruck, which bears the date 1513 and is clearly an earlier work, is much more constricted, more angular and restless in its composition. In the Berlin painting the dramatic outburst of grief on the part of John and Mary Magdalene has given way to silent resignation. This simplification of the forms and softening of the outline is also apparent in two drawings on the same theme, a sketch in Basel for the Innsbruck painting, which bears the date 1513, and a drawing in a private collection, which is dated 1515. By studying as well two woodcuts on the same subject, the consistent development of Baldung's style from early apprenticeship to the full maturity of the Berlin Lamentation shows up in a telling manner.

The artist, whose family came from Swabia, was born at Weyersheim near Strasbourg. At the age of 18 he began his apprenticeship in Dürer's workshop in Nuremberg. It may have been the patricians of the imperial city who later obtained for him the commission for two altarpieces which he completed around 1507 for Halle Cathedral. One, representing the Adoration of the Magi, eventually found its way to the Berlin Gallery. While in Strasbourg, of which town he had become a burgher in 1509, he received the important commission for the high altar in Freiburg Cathedral, whereupon he moved to Freiburg and spent several years there, roughly between 1512 and 1517. It was only towards the end of the second decade, when he had completed this major work, that Baldung seems to have painted the Lamentation, in which one can detect traces of the imposing Freiburg style, a distinct departure from the late-Gothic resonances of the Innsbruck panel.

Hardly anything is known about the origins of this picture. At one time it belonged to a private collector in southern France. Wilhelm Bode bought it and presented it to the Berlin Gallery in 1907.