(b. 1494, Firenze, d. 1540, Paris)

Deposition from the Cross

Oil on canvas, 270 x 201 cm
San Lorenzo, Sansepolcro

The painting was commissioned in 1527 by the Confraternity of Santa Croce, and was probably finished before 1 July 1528. Compared with the preceding Deposition in Volterra, to which the painting refers in the figure of the deposer on the left descending one of the three ladders resting against the cross, and in the curly-haired young St John, portrayed in the background burying his face in his hands, as in the Volterra altarpiece, the Deposition of Sansepolcro places a greater emphasis on the figure of Christ, who has been taken down from the cross and is now lying in the Virgin's lap in the foreground.

A reference to the moulded characterization of Michelangelo's anatomies is visible in the bodies of Rosso's painting; observe, for example, the youth standing to the right of the Virgin bending slightly forward in the act of holding up Christ's back. The light which covers the foreground of the composition and contrasts with the dark background is brightest in the clothing of this figure, highlighting its refined golden-yellow floral motif, and produces the extraordinary changing colour effects of the dress of the bystander seated in the foreground to the left of Mary Magdalene.

More than for the reelaboration of elements associated with the art of Dürer and the great masters of classicism, the Sansepolcro Deposition is distinguished by a number of iconographical peculiarities. The most striking is the complete nudity of the body of Jesus, a clear break with tradition, emphasis being given to the ample volume of its swollen rib-cage. Transferring to the Virgin, the iconography which from the 14th century in Italy was traditionally used to represent Mary Magdalene, Ross portrays the mother of Christ with her arms splayed and held up, as if she herself was reliving the moment of crucifixion; the expression of the crucified Jesus seems in fact to be impressed upon the face of Mary, who is now prostrate with grief. Behind her, the horrible animal-like figure directing his squint-eyed gaze away from the scene probably takes up the theme of the bodyguard, the symbol of the treachery and wickedness that determined the killing of Christ, and also present in the Volterra Deposition.