Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino) (ca. 1498–1554 )
Oil on canvas
240 x 189.2 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This was probably Moretto`s last work before his own death. He died within a few months of the work being complete
The inscription in the painting comes from St Paul while in imprisonment in Rome, just before his own death
After the death come the lamentation and the funeral rites
In Italian this work is known as "Il compianto sul cristo morto" - The Lamentation of Christ, which is probably more accurate than the title ascribed by The Metropolitan
After the body of Christ was removed from the Cross, his friends and relatives mourned over his body
In this, his mother Mary is holding his body
Also present are Mary Magdalene, St John the Evangelist, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus
Joseph of Arimathea is recognised by the act of holding the crown of thorns and nails
Nicodemus is recognised by his pincers and hammer
The inscription at the bottom of the painting - always important in Moretto`s works - reads:
""Factvs est obediens vsqve ad mortem"
"He was made obedient unto death" and the quotation is from St Paul`s Letter to the Philippians (Chapter 2)
The full quotation from the Epistle is:
"5 Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
6 Who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
7 Rather, he emptied himself,taking the form of a slave,coming in human likeness;and found human in appearance,
8 he humbled himself,becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
9 Because of this, God greatly exalted himand bestowed on him the namethat is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bend,of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess thatJesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father."
The themes of the Chapter in the Epistle are:
the Imitation and contemplation of Christ;the total humility and self-giving of Christ to the point of meek servility, like a slave;total obedience to the Father;the recognition and confession that Jesus is God
St Paul shows his enthusiasm for Christ as the key to life and death, the bringer of salvation to all on earth
The presence of St John the Evangelist is important because of the confraternity which commissioned the work and the patron saint of the Church in which it hung
The work was commissioned by a lay confraternity known as the Disciplina di San Giovanni Evangelista.
It was for their oratory adjacent to the church of St John the Evangelist in Brescia
It hung above the altar from 1554 until 1771 when the confraternity was suppressed
There the confraternity prayed and may have met in chapter. They were meant to relieve suffering and perform good works.
If one of them died, his body would rest there overnight before the funeral and perhaps his Requiem Mass would be conducted there. He, along with other deceased members of the Confraternity would be prayed for in the chapel
Again as one might expect the work is sombre, a work of contemplation and introversion
But the inscription and reference to Phillipians reminds us of the joy of faith arising from Christ’s unique role in the salvation of all who profess his lordship
The work forces the viewer to contemplate death, grief and suffering.
Sadness is etched in the face of the mother, Mary
The pain of grief is seen in the face of Mary Magdalene who faces the viewer. She of course has to wait till Sunday when she meets who at first she thinks is the gardener
St John the Evangelist and Nicodemus do not seem to be as greatly affected. Perhaps they were realising what had been said before
We are reminded of course of John Chapter 3 when Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews came to Jesus at night to seek instruction
Christ said to Nicodemus:
"13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
In Chapter IV of his Apostolic Letter Salvici doloris Blessed Pope John Paul II reflected on suffering, grief and death
"14. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life".
These words, spoken by Christ in his conversation with Nicodemus, introduce us into the very heart of God's salvific work. They also express the very essence of Christian soteriology, that is, of the theology of salvation.
Salvation means liberation from evil, and for this reason it is closely bound up with the problem of suffering.
According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to "the world" to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word "gives" ("gave") indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering.
And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this reason "gives" his Son. This is love for man, love for the "world": it is salvific love. ...Man " perishes" when he loses "eternal life".
The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering.
In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life.
The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection. ...
It is the same when we deal with death.
It is often awaited even as a liberation from the suffering of this life. At the same time, it is not possible to ignore the fact that it constitutes as it were a definitive summing-up of the destructive work both in the bodily organism and in the psyche.
But death primarily involves the dissolution of the entire psychophysical personality of man. The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: "You are dust and to dust you shall return".
Therefore, even if death is not a form of suffering in the temporal sense of the word, even if in a certain way it is beyond all forms of suffering, at the same time the evil which the human being experiences in death has a definitive and total character. By his salvific work, the only-begotten Son liberates man from sin and death.
First of all he blots out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin, and then he gives man the possibility of living in Sanctifying Grace.
In the wake of his victory over sin, he also takes away the dominion of death, by his Resurrection beginning the process of the future resurrection of the body.
Both are essential conditions of "eternal life", that is of man's definitive happiness in union with God; this means, for the saved, that in the eschatological perspective suffering is totally blotted out.
As a result of Christ's salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation.
This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News.
At the heart of this light is the truth expounded in the conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son".
This truth radically changes the picture of man's history and his earthly situation: in spite of the sin that took root in this history both as an original inheritance and as the "sin of the world" and as the sum of personal sins, God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him in a lasting way; and then in time, precisely through this all-surpassing love, he "gives" this Son, that he may strike at the very roots of human evil and thus draw close in a salvific way to the whole world of suffering in which man shares."