Figures from a Lamentation Group

Southern Netherlands
ca. 1500

Walnut, remnants of original polychromy
Height 161 cm



These four impressive figures were part of a scene of the lamentation of the dead Christ after his removal from the cross. The group is incomplete, but can be reconstructed. In keeping with the Biblical story as well as pictorial tradition, a second male figure should be present on the left. The two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, hold a shroud in which the dead Christ lay wrapped on the ground. Behind them stands his favourite disciple, John, who gently supports the mother of Christ, as her legs are about to give out from weakness. Axe marks in the front area of her garment up to knee level indicate that, sometime after the work’s original execution, room was made for a sarcophagus and the Lamentation group was converted into an Entombment group. A weeping woman enters from the left to assist. She probably had a counterpart on the other side amidst the Mary and John group, and there may have been other mourners as well.

The origin of these figures is unknown, though aspects of their style indicate they were produced in the Southern Netherlands. Netherlandish sculptures of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are relatively rare, although they were produced in considerable numbers. In 1566, the conflict between the Netherlandish provinces and the Spanish rulers went hand in hand with an iconoclastic controversy that led to the loss of nearly all Medieval decorations in churches there. Thanks to flourishing export production, above all in Brussels, Antwerp and Mechelen, several works, in particular altarpieces, have survived elsewhere in Europe. But individual sculptures, especially life-size ones like the Liebieghaus Lamentation, are rare.