“Lamentation over Dead Christ” by Niccolò dell’Arca is a 1463 sculptural group of seven terracotta figures is housed in the “Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita” a Baroque church in Bologna, Italy. The work is composed of life-size figures in terracotta displaying dramatic pathos. The expressions of grief and torment on the faces is intensified by the realism of their dramatic facial details.
Christ is at the center lying with his head reclining on a pillow. Around him are the other figures, Mary of Cleophas and at the feet of Christ, Mary Magdalene, torn by pain with clothes swelled by the wind. The other figures are more composed, even as their faces show their pain and grief. The Madonna has her hands folded and clenched. Mary, the mother of James the Greater and John the Evangelist, is shown squeezing her thighs in a gesture of regret, while Saint John is silently weeping, with a palm under his chin. Detached from the other witnesses is the figure kneeling in Renaissance clothes, on the left, representing the artist Giuseppe D’Arimatea and looking towards the observer.
The drama and the pathos of some of these figures are unrivaled in the art and culture of the time. Scholars argue that Niccolò dell’Arca drew inspiration from the realistic sculpture of Burgundy, with its focus on Renaissance Humanism. This work, however, does not seem to have had a significant influence on other artists of the period who were focused on more peaceful and conventional depictions.
Niccolò dell’Arca was an Italian Early Renaissance sculptor who lived for some time in Dalmatia, where he trained with Dalmatian sculptor Giorgio da Sebenico. The Burgundian elements in his sculpture are attributed by some art historians to his work in Naples with the Catalan sculptor Guillem Sagrera who influenced by his style. Others reject this theory and suggest that he traveled to France in the late 1460s and then worked in Siena, where he was influenced by the works of Jacopo della Quercia and Donatello.
Lamentation of Christ
The Lamentation of Christ was a frequent subject in Christian art from the High Middle Ages to the Baroque. After Jesus was crucified, his body was removed from the cross, and his friends mourned over his body. Many different artists have depicted this event in various art forms. Lamentation works of art often included in cycles of the Life of Christ, and also form the subject of many individual artworks. One specific type of Lamentation depicts only Jesus’ mother Mary cradling his body. These are known as Pietà or “pity” in English.
The theme of the Lamentation of Christ is common in medieval and Renaissance art, although this treatment by Niccolò dell’Arca is unusual for the period. The realism and tragedy of this scene are enhanced by the dramatic depiction of the mourner’s faces. The composition places the central focus of the life-size body of Christ, emphasizing the humanity of Jesus.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ
- Name: “Lamentation over the Dead Christ” by Niccolò dell’Arca
- Italian: Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita
- Date: 1463 and 1490
- City: Bologna, Italy
- Church: Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita
- Artist: Niccolò dell’Arca
- Alternatives: Niccolò da Ragusa, Niccolò da Bari, and Niccolò d’Antonio d’Apulia
- Birth: 1435 – Apulia, perhaps in Bari
- Death: 1494 (59 years old)
- Does this depiction capture the humanity of Jesus?
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Photo Credit: JOM