The Death of Jesus
An iconographic type
This is a comparatively rare iconographic type that seems to go back no farther than the 17th century. In it the dead body of Jesus is carried to the Father by angels, always accompanied by some of the instruments of the Passion – the cross, the crown of thorns, the nails, and so on. As the examples on the right demonstrate, the artist need not actually portray the Father, or even the Son. In the second picture the angels are just getting off the ground, and in the third they are carrying only the instruments to Heaven, where it is the Holy Spirit who receives them.

Like so much late medieval and counter-Reformation art, these images emphasize the pathos of the Crucifixion, helping the viewer to contemplate the pain and sorrow of Jesus' death from the viewpoint of a loving father. Their rarity is probably due to some inconsistency with the belief that after his death on the Cross Christ went to Hell to reclaim the souls of those who had been faithful to God. Ephesians 4:9, for example, says he "descended…into the lower parts of the earth." The Apostles' Creed says Jesus "descended into Hell" after he was buried, and this "harrowing of Hell" is the subject of many medieval plays and images. That may be why the first picture on the right adds a scene at the bottom in which souls in Hell look up toward Christ, as if they were his next stop.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University


Painting from Sicily, 17th century (See the description page)

Sculpture in the "Gesuati" in Venice (See the description page)

Ceiling of the baptistery of St. Raphael's, Venice (See the description page)


Venice: a bronze plaque with elaborate "Death of Jesus" imagery.

Venice: a wooden plaque in St. Marks.