The Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross, study for a painting; the body of Christ supported on the knees of the Virgin at r, surrounded by other figures behind, Mary Magdalene crouching at his feet, the lower part of the crosses and the ladder behind. c.1634-5 Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, with red and some black chalk, reworked in oil en grisaille, on several sheets overlaid


© The Trustees of the British Museum

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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: Oo,9.103

Bibliographic reference
Benesch 1973 154
Hind 1915-31 60
Royalton-Kisch 2010 9 (Rembrandt)

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Drawn by Rembrandt (biographical details | all objects)
1634-1635 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

The Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross; the body of Christ supported on the knees of the Virgin at right, surrounded by other figures behind, Mary Magdalene crouching at his feet, the lower part of the crosses and the ladder behind. c.1634-1635
Pen and brown ink and brown wash, with red and perhaps some black chalk, reworked in oils ‘en grisaille’; framing lines in thin black oil paint; the sheet made up of cut sections of paper (see further under Comment).
Verso: laid down.
No watermark visible.

Inscription Content: Inscribed on a remnant of the old mat, in pen and brown ink, by Jonathan Richardson, jun.: ‘Rembrandt has labour’d this Study for the Lower part of his famous Des:/:cent from the Cross, grav’d by Picart, & had so often chang’d his mind in / the Disposition of the Clair-Obscur, which was his Point Here, that/ my Father & I counted, I think, Seventeen different Peices [sic] of Paper.’.

Height: 216 millimetres (chain lines not visible)
Width: 254 millimetres

The work in brown ink and wash is much faded, and the sheet is discoloured to a pale brown tone; the oil pigment threatens to flake at the extreme edges of the various sections of the paper.

Curator's comments
Further Literature: P. Black, 'Rembrandt and the Passion', exh.cat. The Hunterian Glasgow, Munich-London-New York, 2012, cat.no.24.

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.9.
The drawing is related to a more complete oil-sketch in the National Gallery in London (Bredius 565, Corpus A107), but opinions have differed as to whether it was drawn before, after, or during the execution of the more finished work.[1]
The British Museum's sheet began as a pen and ink sketch of the figures lamenting over the dead body of Christ. Rembrandt evidently decided to enlarge the composition. This was effected in various stages, as follows: (1) he stuck the original sheet onto a slightly larger piece of paper (most clearly visible in the narrow parallel strips at the top, that on the left now being slightly lower). (2) A bolder reorganisation led him to cut through the whole sheet, including the first addition, in a more-or-less diagonal line and to rearrange the two sections a little apart. (The top half of the cut is now occupied by the right-hand ladder and it seems that the artist's main concern was to provide room for this extra motif. Below this, the cut continues in a zig-zag, first to the left, then back to the right, before ending in a near vertical line to the edge of the sheet below.) (3) The two sections were fixed to a third and yet larger sheet; the left section, with the standing mourners and the Magdalene at Christ's feet, was stuck down in a lower position than (and slightly to the left of) that on the right.
The composition was then reworked, firstly with indications in red chalk and subsequently in oils and the surface of the third sheet only contains work in these media. The main parts of the third sheet that are exposed are the following: the top left corner, the section occupied by the right-hand ladder and the small quadrangular patch at its base, and the strip running across the bottom from the lower right corner to the point below the sorrowing Magdalene at Christ's feet.[2] The tallest figures behind the body of Christ are also apparently executed entirely in oil paint. The bases of the crosses, the ladders, the temple of Jerusalem, the sky, the foreground section and, to the right, the mourners and the winding-sheet were all painted at this stage. Refinements were also made to some figures – for example, those on the left of the composition – that had been drawn with the pen before the sheet was cut.
It seems likely that Rembrandt executed the work in oils on the British Museum sketch after he had started on the sheet of paper that now forms the central part of the National Gallery's painting, but that the initial pen and ink part of the Museum's sketch would have been made first of all. The National Gallery's painting is executed entirely in oils and follows the foreground frieze of figures in the drawing. It also includes the ladders, but these could have been added at a subsequent stage (the X-radiograph is inconclusive on this point). Some of the figures, only cursorily indicated in the British Museum's sketch, are worked up in considerable detail, including the man climbing the ladder at the top left corner. But the artist seems to have omitted several motifs that appear only in the Museum's study, including the figure in a broad hat who bends forward over Christ. The National Gallery's painting shows no definite signs of this figure either on the surface or in X-radiographs. This suggests that Rembrandt revised the composition again in his mind, abandoning at an early stage certain solutions that he had considered in the British Museum's sketch. He also altered the background, in which he initially took over the large tower from the earlier trial, only to rework this area again later.[3] Indeed, the National Gallery's sketch was destined to undergo as many revisions as the drawing. Its central, paper section was also cut, in two places: in the area now occupied by the legs of the central thief (perhaps in order to excise the figure of the sorrowing woman who appears at this point in the British Museum's study) and in the lower right corner, where a minor adjustment was made to the pose of the Virgin Mary. Having been cut, the sheet was fixed to a larger support, this time of canvas.[4]
In spite of the changes he had wrought, Rembrandt seems to have remained dissatisfied with the result. The National Gallery's painting was only completed by the addition of further strips of canvas at the top and below at a later date, when the whole picture was mounted on a panel.[5]
Some of the motifs in the British Museum's drawing reappear in other works by Rembrandt of the mid-1630s. A rapid pen and ink sketch of the same subject in Berlin (Benesch 100), in which the style is analogous to those parts of the present sheet that are executed with the pen, was probably a first idea for the composition. In style both resemble the dated drawing in Berlin of 1635 after Leonardo da Vinci's 'Last Supper' (Benesch 445). The dense grouping of the heads and some of the poses of the figures in the two 'Lamentation' sketches suggest that Rembrandt already had a knowledge of Leonardo's composition.[6] The tall, sorrowing woman standing behind the main group near the centre of the British Museum's sketch resembles a figure in a drawing in Amsterdam (Benesch 152), that was used for the Munich 'Entombment', painted for the stadholder in the mid-to-later 1630s.[7] A drawing of the head of this or a similar figure is in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum (Benesch 153).[8] Finally, the etched 'Crucifixion: small plate' of c.1635 (Bartsch 80, Hind 123), resembles the present composition in the disposition of the cross and figures. The date of c.1634-5 here proposed for the British Museum's drawing is suggested on the basis of these several analogies. Other works sketched by Rembrandt 'en grisaille' date from approximately the same period, including the 'Joseph telling his Dreams' in the Rijksmuseum of c.1633 (Bredius 504, Corpus A66), the 'Christ before Pilate' of 1634 in the National Gallery in London (Bredius 546, Corpus A89), the 'Entombment' at Glasgow (Bredius 554, Corpus A105) and the 'St John the Baptist preaching' in Berlin (Bredius 555, Corpus A106). At no other time did Rembrandt repeatedly employ the 'grisaille' medium. It has often been plausibly suggested that like the 1634 'Christ before Pilate' they were all made as preparatory studies for etchings, many of which were not executed.[9]
The iconography of the 'Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross' does not depend on a biblical text and was treated in different ways by artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[10] The subject combines motifs from the 'Deposition', 'Lamentation' and 'Entombment'. Rembrandt's version is more crowded than most as he includes several bystanders who had witnessed the crucifixion. Characteristically, he exploits the opportunity to illustrate through gesture and expression the emotional states of the figures depicted, in line with his desire, expressed in 1639 in a letter to Constantijn Huygens, to imbue his works with 'the greatest and most natural emotion'.[11]
A drawing attributed to Ferdinand Bol that is based on the National Gallery's sketch is in a private collection (Sumowski 146x). Another, in the Louvre and perhaps by another follower of Rembrandt, shows the 'Deposition' in a composition that is reminiscent of the present sheet and the National Gallery's sketch. A drawing in Dresden (Benesch 63) also reflects these compositions.[12]
The engraving to which Richardson jun. refers in the inscription on the back of the drawing was made by Bernard Picart in 1730 after the National Gallery's painting.[13]

[1] See Lit. below.
[2] The extreme edges of the sheet on the other sides, mostly covered by the framing line, are also made up of the third and largest sheet. The above reconstruction, with minor deviations, follows that proposed by Harris, 1969.
[3] The 'ghost' of this motif is visible on the surface of the National Gallery's sketch although it is not clear in the X-radiograph.
[4] Believed to have come from the same bolt as the following paintings: the 'Holy Family' in Munich of 1634 (Corpus A88, Bredius 544), the 'Cupid blowing Bubbles' of 1634 in a private collection (Corpus A91, Bredius 470), the 'Samson threatening his Father-in-Law' in Berlin of 1635 (Bredius 499, Corpus A109), the Vienna 'St Paul' (Bredius 603), and certainly from the same bolt as a patch used for the first enlargement of the Berlin 'St John the Baptist preaching' (Bredius 555, Corpus A106), as noted in Corpus, II, 1986, p.479, and III, 1989, p.107.
[5] Opinions differ as to whether the work was completed by Rembrandt himself: see Exh. London, 1988-9, p.68, and Corpus, III, 1989, no.A107.
[6] The group of the Virgin and those supporting her torso is like that of the figures to Christ's left (spectator's right) in Benesch 445, while those above Christ's body are like the two to his right, especially in the case of the National Gallery's sketch.
[7] For the drawing, see further Amsterdam, 1985, no.7. The resemblance to a figure in a woodcut by Lucas Cranach (Hollstein 25), first noticed by Colin Campbell, is there reported (p.19, n.4). The connection with the British Museum's sketch was first made by Benesch.
[8] See Amsterdam, 1981, no.2.
[9] Van de Wetering (as first reported in Exh. London, 1988-9, p.70 and stated in Corpus, III, 1989, pp.96-7) suggested that the National Gallery's 'Lamentation' may have been intended as a sketch in reverse for a print because the good thief is to the left of Christ's cross. This may well be the case, but Rembrandt's disregard of such iconographic conventions in his etchings undermines such an argument (for example, in the etching of the 'Raising of Lazarus' of c.1632, Bartsch 73, Hind 96, Christ raises his left hand, and in the 'Crucifixion', Bartsch 79, Hind 173, of c.1641, the thieves are not clearly differentiated; see further Boeck, 1953). In Exh. Amsterdam-London, 2000-2001, pp.36-63, van de Wetering developed more arguments to support the idea that Rembrandt's 'grisaille' sketches relate to a largely unexecuted plan for a series of prints on subjects from Christ's Passion.
[10] See Réau, II, 1957, pp.519-21.
[11] As noted by Schatborn (loc. cit., n.8), Rembrandt used similar words in an inscription on the Rijksmuseum's sketches of the 'Magdalen and the Virgin in Sorrow' (Benesch 152).
[12] The Paris drawing is repr. Paris, 1933, no.1277, pl.LXXXVII. The Dresden sheet, regarded by Stechow, 1929, as a preliminary stage ('Vorstufe') of the composition, seems more likely to be a reflection of it by a contemporary pupil (and is catalogued as such in Exh. Dresden, 2004, no.85).
[13] Repr. Exh. London, 1988-9, p.68, fig.52; it shows the composition in reverse. Richardson's inscription was copied by Sir Joshua Reynolds onto the back of the National Gallery's painting, which he owned as well as the present sheet.

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt unless otherwise stated):
Northcote, 1819, I, pp.261 ff. (see note in Acquisitions); Bürger, 1858, p.398 (same composition as National Gallery 'grisaille'); Vosmaer, 1868, p.431, n.1 (for National Gallery painting); Vosmaer, 1877, p.545; Dutuit, IV, 1885, p.85; Michel, 1893, II, p.581 (as Vosmaer); Seidlitz, 1894, p.121; Seidlitz, 1895, p.76n., under no.81 (relates to National Gallery painting and to another in Christiania); Michel, 1898, p.303 (17 pieces of paper); Lippmann, I, no.103; Kleinmann, IV, no.1; Bode and Hofstede de Groot, IV, 1900, p.80, under no.245 (related to National Gallery painting and Frankfurt drawing, Benesch 586); Neumann, 1902, pp.330-31 (at least 16 pieces of paper; related to National Gallery painting); Bell, c.1905, p.15, repr. pl.XVIII (for National Gallery 'grisaille' of c.1642; 16 pieces); Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.890 (study for National Gallery painting, 1642; made up of at least 16 pieces); Wickhoff (text by Kurt Rathe), 1906, p.28, no.30; Baldwin Brown, 1907, pp.118 and 218; Rosenberg, 1908 ed., under no.226 (relates to Bartsch 82, Hind 199); Saxl, 1908, p.233 (rejects relationship suggested by Rosenberg, 1908); Wurzbach, 1910, p.417; Hind, 1912, I, p.52 (16 or more pieces of paper); London, 1915, no.60 (c.1642); Hofstede de Groot, 1916/15, p.105, under no.136 (with National Gallery painting a study for etching Bartsch 82, Hind 199, of 1642; Frankfurt drawing, Benesch 586, related); Neumann, 1918, p.105 (quotes HdG); Bredt, 1921/28, II, repr. p.31/136 (17 pieces of paper); Byam Shaw, 1928, p.31, n.2 (c.1642); Stechow, 1929, p.226-9 (early 1640s; relationship with National Gallery's painting impossible fully to clarify; sees an iconographic progression towards stressing Virgin's mourning in Rembrandt's versions but some of the arguments rest on works now doubted; see n.12 above); Hell, 1930, p. 14, n.3 (16 pieces); Hind, 1932, p.68 (refers also to school 'Pietá' in Ringling Museum, Bredius 582); Valentiner, II, 1934, no.495, repr. (c.1640; possibly a workshop repetition based on the National Gallery's painting); Benesch, 1935, p.28 (c.1637); Bredius, 1937/35, under no.565; Benesch, 1947, p.12 and no.94, repr. (c.1637-8); Benesch, I, 1954/73, no.154, repr. fig.172/184 (as Benesch, 1947); van Gelder, 1955, p.396 (conceived as a gift); Exh. Rotterdam-Amsterdam, 1956, p.49, under no.28; Sumowski, 1957-8, p.260 (school work based on National Gallery's painting and reworked by Rembrandt); London, 1960, pp.304-8 (for National Gallery painting; refutes connection with Benesch 586; much less than 17 pieces of paper); Haverkamp-Begemann, 1961, p.23 (c.1642; with National Gallery painting perhaps for an etching); Slive, 1965, I, no.104, repr. (c.1642); Bauch, 1966, p.5, under no.69; Haverkamp-Begemann, 1967 (1964), p.110 (related to etchings); Gerson, 1968, p.492, under no.89; Bredius-Gerson, 1969, under no.565; Harris, 1969, pp.158-64, repr. pl.35 (reconstructs progress of work on the sheet); Waals, 1969, p.104 (demonstrates that Rembrandt fought to achieve compositions); Campbell, 1971, p.261 (associates Rijksmuseum sketches, Benesch 152, with 'Lamentation' composition); Haverkamp-Begemann, 1971, p.69 (probably for an etching); van Gelder, 1973, pp.193-4 (as Harris, 1969); Broos, 1975-6, p.223, n.38 (1640s; Mary in arms of consolers based on Altdorfer and Cranach); Sciolla, 1976, p.6, repr. pl.xxiii (c.1637-40; notes use of several pieces of paper in 'Montelbaanstoren', Rembrandthuis, Benesch 1309, and 'Deposition', Dresden, Benesch 63); Sumowski, I, 1979, under no.146x; Amsterdam, 1981, under no.2; Tümpel, 1986, under no.62 (the National Gallery sketch c.1635-42); Corpus, III, 1989, pp.94-6, repr. figs.4-7 (c.1634-5; the drawing based on the National Gallery painting as a trial for the division of the latter into two [but the latter is not so divided]); Royalton-Kisch, 1989 (1990), pp.135-7, repr. fig.1; (National Gallery painting essentially follows the drawing, which must have preceded it); Van de Wetering, 1997, p.17, n.20, p.110 and p.287, repr. p.112, fig.138 (c.1634; for an abandoned print; changes prompted by narrative construction and need for unity of time); Exh. Dresden, 2004, p.160, under no.85 (see n.12 above; as Exh. London, 1992); Berlin, 2006, p.46, under no.7 and p.53, under no.9, repr. (as Exh. London, 1992; sees analogies with Berlin 'Last Supper', Benesch 445; emphasizes that the Berlin sketch, Benesch 100, is a first idea for the composition of the London drawing; both works have touches of red chalk); Exh. Braunschweig, 2006, pp.85-6, under nos.30-32 (influenced P. Koninck's versions of subject in Braunschweig, inv.375-7, Sumowski 1353-5); Exh. London, 2006[1], pp.100-102, under no.7, repr. fig.80; Schwartz, 2006, p.79, repr. fig.131.

lamentation (scope note | all objects)

Associated names
Representation of St Mary Magdalene (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of Virgin Mary (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of Jesus Christ (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by Richard Payne Knight (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Jonathan Richardson Junior (L.2170) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Jonathan Richardson Senior (L.2184) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Sir Joshua Reynolds (L.2364) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection William Young Ottley (Mr Scott Jr under the direction of T. Philipe, 21.iv.1803/824 as Rembrandt 'One - Christ taken down) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
Jonathan Richardson, sen. (L.2184); Jonathan Richardson, jun. (L.2170); Sir Joshua Reynolds (L.2364);* bequeathed by Richard Payne Knight, 1824. * Reynolds’ pupil, James Northcote, remembered bidding for the drawing at Richardson’s sale (‘The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds’, 2nd edn. London, 1819, I, pp.261 f): ‘I purchased for Sir Joshua those lots which he had marked …One drawing in particular I remember, a descent from the cross by Rembrandt, in which were to be discovered sixteen alterations, or pentimenti, as the Italians term it, made by Rembrandt, on bits of paper stuck upon the different parts of the drawing, and finished according to his second thoughts’.

Exhibition History
1899 London BM, no.A33 (1642; at least 16 pieces of paper)
1938 London BM, no.60 (c.1642)
1956 London BM, p.22, no.1 bis
1969 Amsterdam no.53 (c.1640, for National Gallery painting)
1978 London BM, 'Gainsborough and Reynolds in the BM', no.282
1982 Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 'Payne Knight', no.157
1984 London BM, 'Rembrandt and the Passion', no.9
1988-9 London, National Gallery, 'Art in the Making: Rembrandt', pp.66 ff. and 160
1992, BM, 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle', no.12
2003-4 Boston-Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, 'Rembrandt's Journey:...', pp.110-11, no.43
2006 Amsterdam-Berlin, 'Rembrandt: The Quest for Genius', p.180 (Amsterdam only).
2012 Sep-Nov, Glasgow, Hunterian, Rembrandt and the Passion
NB Jenny Bescoby examined the work in December 2012 and noted that the state of the oil paint requires care to be exercised in lending to future venues.
2016 22 Jun-4 Sep, London, NG, Painters' Paintings

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