|The Deposition of Christ
Images in this genre are sometimes called "The Deposition," sometimes "The Descent from the Cross." The removal of Christ's body is recounted very briefly in each of the Gospels: In the evening after the Crucifixion, a wealthy disciple named Joseph of Arimathea obtains permission to take Jesus' body and prepares it for interment. In John's Gospel he is assisted by Nicodemus.
Medieval images of the Deposition of Christ often show Mary kissing her son's right arm, as at left, or his face (example). Other common features include angels (example) and skulls (as at left). The skulls refer to the hill of Golgotha ("the place of the skull"), where Christ was crucified.
Dramatis personae include Mary always and John the Evangelist usually. In paintings and illuminations Mary is normally accompanied by the other women disciples, as at left, and sometimes Mary Magdalene is prominent among them (example). Sometimes there is a crowd (example).
In many instances an older man in a full gray beard (as at left) is at work getting the body off the cross, sometimes assisted by a second, younger man (example). Presumably these are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus respectively. John and the women do not assist in the removal of the body. Other dramatis personae often include men with tongs for removing the nails, as at left.
At left, 14th-century illumination
High relief in Santiago, Spain
16th century painting in Rome
Gospel accounts of the Deposition: