How does Rogier van der Weyden use compositional elements to heighten the emotional impact of Descent from the Cross?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As with much Flemish art from that period (circa 1435), Rogier van der Weyden's "Descent from the Cross" reflects great reverence for the subject being depicted.  Also as with other Flemish paintings from that period, many of which depict religious themes, van der Weyden's painting uses vibrant colors and expressive faces to evoke emotion and to stand out and be noticed.  

Depictions of the Crucifixion were extremely common during these years, and varied widely in attention to detail.  "Descent from the Cross" takes considerable liberty, with appparently no pretense of accuracy.  The Virgin Mary has fainted, her limp body being supported by St. John and Mary Salome.  Jesus's "lifeless" body is improbably posed, not improbably dead center.  He is supported by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  Van der Weyden has been careful to depict all the main figures associated with the Crucifixion, and in prominent poses.  The emotional outpouring evident in the faces of the women is no doubt intended to evoke maximum reaction from those viewing it.

Van der Weyden painted a number of religious triptychs, and some of his work ended up in Italy, the seat of Christianity.  His compositional placement in "Descent from the Cross," while hardly striving for historical accuracy, was painted with utmost reverence for Christianity.