Oil on wood, 321 x 206 cm
Palatine Gallery (Pitti Palace), Room of Apollo
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds (John 19:38-39).
Commissioned in 1600 by the Compagnia della Croce in Empoli, annexed to the church of Santo Stefano degli Agostiniani, and delivered on January 27, 1608, this work is unanimously recognized as one of the summits of the seventeenth-century Tuscan painting and artistry in general. With its great formal beauty, this painting won over the Grand Prince Ferdinando de'Medici who, in 1690, following a practice customary to him, acquired it for his own collection, giving in exchange to the monks a conspicuous donation of money and a copy of the work executed by Anton Domenico Gabbiani.
Cigoli devoted much time to the realization of the work (as evidenced by a collection of preparatory drawings of considerable quality), which in fact presents an accurate composition, rich in figures skillfully juxtaposed with each other, thanks also to the clear play of lines , lights, and shadows.
The scene is divided almost in half by a diagonal, which, starting at the top left, descends following the profile of the young man's arm who, climbing up the ladder, helps Giuseppe d'Arimatea to lay Jesus on the white sheet held by St. John the Evangelist. This line, also identified by the side and the heavily abandoned legs of the body of Christ, as well as from the arm and shoulder of St. John, separates this group of figures from that of the women (the Virgin Mary, Mary of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene). The women, seen on the left at the foot of the cross, express their pain in a content and introspective way. Behind them emerge three other male figures, among which Nicodemus is present, the Pharisee secretly converted to the teachings of Jesus, who brought an amphora of myrrh and aloes with which to anoint the body of the Savior before placing it in the tomb.
To give even more expressive and theatrical incisiveness to this dramatic moment, Cigoli inserts some brilliant “spots of color” that animate the surface of the picture, breaking here and there the various chiaroscuro passages. This is the case, for example, of the shining blue of the sleeve of the doublet of Giuseppe d'Arimatea, of the bright red of the cloak of San Giovanni Evangelista, as well as the pale blue and of the orange-yellow of the Magdalene's garments.