MASSYS, Quentin
(b. 1465/66, Leuven, d. 1530, Antwerpen)

St John Altarpiece (central panel)

Oil on wood
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

The central panel depicts the moment at which Joseph of Arimathea comes to ask the Virgin for her permission to bury Christ's body. Mary, supported by John, is slipping down onto her knees. In the foreground, Joseph is picking small scraps of bloody flesh from Christ's head, while Nicodemus tries to lift up the corpse by its armpits. Behind them, a centurion is holding the crown of thorns in a piece of cloth, so as to protect his fingers. Mary Salome is preparing to anoint the wounds in Jesus's hands with a sponge passed to her by another woman. A little further back on the right are three smaller figures who are preparing the tomb. Far off to the left, we can see Jerusalem, and behind it, blue mountains fading away into an azure sky. Behind the central action is the hill of Golgotha, with its few trees, the cross and the crucified thieves, all of them represented on a much smaller scale in comparison with the foreground figures. A man is carrying a ladder across the hill, while two women busy themselves mopping up the holy blood. They are watched as they work by two dogs and an owl.