John Mcewen comments on Lamentation over the Dead Christ with Saints
Dame Paula has always based her art on storytelling and, for her, the greatest story is the life of Christ. Its tragic aftermath was the lamentation, the final act after his crucifixion, mourned on Good Friday before the triumph of his resurrection on easter Sunday.
In each of the Gospels, the key figure is Joseph of arimethea, a rich disciple of Jesus, who asked the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for permission to lay the body of Jesus in the tomb that Joseph had prepared for his own burial. It was Joseph who wrapped him in fine linen—mary, mary magdalene and other women present are seen as passive onlookers.
Botticelli dramatises the biblical account, making the grief-stricken women the principals. mary swoons into the arms of St John. mary magdalene, at her shoulder, holds up the Three Nails. Joseph of arimethea is replaced by assorted saints. The painting was originally for a Florentine chapel whose patron saint was St Paul, hence his presence (second from left), with his martyred counterpart St Peter (right). The penitential St Jerome (far left) may have been the donor’s patron saint.
The picture reflected the bornagain puritanical zeal inspired in Botticelli by the Dominican friar, Savonarola, who castigated the secular Florentines, especially the artist’s patrons, the medici bankers. Vasari’s claim that Botticelli was a follower or piagnone (sniveller), who later relinquished art and died impoverished, is not supported by extant facts.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ with Saints, 1490Ð92, by Sandro Botticelli (1445Ð1510), 55in by 81in, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany