Lamentation over the Dead Christ

WAG 1014


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. This image shows God crowning Mary as the Queen of Heaven. This event is not described in the Bible but was a popular subject in art. This work was once part of the top of a larger altarpiece. The elaborate decoration on the frame is not fully original. It was probably altered in the 19th century. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.