Christ’s friends have brought his body to his mother. She sinks to her knees, supported by St. John, and accompanied by two holy women.The scene is one of horror and desolation, as expressed through the pale, skull-like faces and the barren landscape.
The Dutch painter is not known by name, but his work is so distinctive that a group of about 20 paintings can be firmly attributed to him. Of them, this is perhaps his masterpiece. Many Dutch paintings were destroyed in the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Surviving works such as this are, therefore, all the more precious.
William Roscoe owned a large library and collection of prints. He often used them to give attributions to his paintings. When he bought this painting shortly after 1807 it was attributed to a German printmaker Israhel van Meckenem. Roscoe also owned nine of his prints so he knew that ‘his manner was wholly different’ to that of the painting. He believed wrongly that it was by Jan van Eyck of Ghent.
Recent research suggests that the unknown artist may have trained in Ghent with Joos van Wassenhoeve (active 1460-80) and that he then worked in Delft. He is named after his best known work showing the Virgin seated among female saints, the Virgo inter Virgines in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.