Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    The Descent from the Cross by torchlight; numerous figures taking Christ down from the cross atop a mound at left, man holding torch near feet of Christ, a stretcher awaiting body in foreground, silhouette of the city beyond; first state before posthumous addition of two dots in upper right corner and reworking of shadows. 1654 Etching and drypoint on Japan paper


  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1654
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 205 millimetres
    • Width: 162 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Lettered with Rembrandt's signature and date, in lower left on the shroud: "Rembrandt. f 1654" (the 'a' reversed).
  • Curator's comments

    For other impressions see also F,5.5-6; and F,5.8. For a late impression see 1941,0327.11.88.
    For a copy in reverse by John Burnet see also 1867,0309.1746.

    Selected literature: Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 272-3, no. 37.

    Hinterding et al. 2000:
    "When evening fell, there came a man of Arimathaea, Joseph by name, who was a man of means and had himself become a disciple of Jesus. He approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave orders that he should have it. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen sheet, and laid it in his own unused tomb, which he had cut out of the rock; he then rolled a large stone against the entrance, and went away. Mary Magdalene was there, and the Other Mary, sitting opposite the grave." (Matthew 27: 57-61).
    The 'Descent from the cross' by torchlight is among the most melodramatic of Rembrandt's prints. The drama derives to a significant extent from the highly original composition: only a small part of the cross can be seen, and the main action takes place not in the centre of the picture but in the upper left corner. The foreground is dominated by a bier, over which the shroud is draped, creating a sombre white accent in the inky black gloom of the night. On the right, in the foreground, his face in shadow, kneels Joseph of Arimathaea, who has just laid the cloth over the bier. The viewer's eye is drawn inexorably from the scene in the foreground, which points ahead towards the entombment that is to come, to the principal action, which has the emotional intensity of a late medieval 'Andachtsbild' or meditative picture. Because there is only one source of light - the torch held aloft by one of the men - the attention is focused on the grisly detail of the nail through Christ's right foot. The figure of the man seen from behind is superbly rendered: we can clearly see that at this moment he alone has to bear the full weight of the dead body, and one can almost feel the tension in his calf muscles. Further to the right, one of the men raises his arm to receive the corpse, and his outstretched hand catches the torchlight.
    There is only one known state of this print. This might lead us to suppose that Rembrandt completed this etching in a single operation, spontaneously and with immense urgency. A striking aspect is that Rembrandt used the drypoint needle only sporadically, whereas one might expect him to have used this technique more extensively to suggest the velvety blackness of the night. However, he rendered the large dark passages by means of a dense web of deeply bitten, cross-hatched, etched lines. Traces of burr from the drypoint can be seen - and then only in the earliest impressions - in the drapery that hangs over the cross, in the face and torso of the man descending the ladder, by the shoulder of the man seen from behind, in Christ's face and in the shroud spread over the bier in the foreground. There are a number of good early impressions of the print on thin Japanese paper, which Rembrandt employed increasingly from the early 1650s for early impressions.
    In 1679 the copper plate of the 'Descent from the cross by torchlight' was in the estate of the Amsterdam print dealer Clement de Jonghe [Hinterding 1993-4, p. 310. The copper plate is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, ibid. p. 294]. At the sale of Pieter de Haan's estate in 1767, the art dealer Fouquet paid nine guilders and ten stivers for "A Descent from the Cross, with 14 prints". As always in the De Haan sale, the impressions that were sold with the copper plate must have been of recent date. There are indeed eighteenth-century impressions of this print, which are still of reasonable quality but in which it can clearly be seen that the drypoint burr has completely worn away. They consequently lack the brooding, ominous tension of early impressions.


  • Bibliography

    • Hind 1923 280 bibliographic details
    • New Hollstein (Dutch & Flemish) 286.I (Rembrandt) bibliographic details
    • Hinterding et al. 2000 75 bibliographic details
    • White & Boon 1969 83 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (D+F XVIIc Mounted Roy)

  • Exhibition history

    2015 Mar-May, San Diego, San Diego University Galleries, 'Quintessential Rembrandt'

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • 1973,U.1085
The descent from the cross by torchlight; numerous figures assisting, stretcher awaiting body.  1654  Etching and drypoint, printed on japan paper

The descent from the cross by torchlight; numerous figures assisting, stretcher awaiting body. 1654 Etching and drypoint, printed on japan paper

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: PPA41149

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help