By Linus Meldrum
An anomaly both then and now, Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1480, has often been called a tour-de-force of perspective. This small tempera painting was found by Mantegna’s son in the artist’s personal collection at his death. The Early Renaissance masterpiece likely disturbed its viewers with its strangeness—the composition, the point of view, and the insistent description are unnerving. Jesus had never been seen quite like this. Christ, having been removed from the cross has been placed upon a marble slab. Rather than the typical embrace of His Mother, we see Mary at the side, age-appropriate and weeping. The other figures are likely St. John, with his mouth agape, and Mary Magdalene, given her relationship with the anointing of Jesus and the presence of an alabaster jar at the rear of the slab. Christ, lightly covered by a damp cloth, rests His head upon a pillow. We see His wounds. His hands are pulled up in near-gesture. A barely discernable halo flickers around his head. The Lamentation is sometimes paired with Mantegna’s drawing in the British Museum titled Man Laying on a Stone Slab. The drawing depicts a man in a reclining pose, eyes closed, yet lifting himself—like a sleepwalker about to rise. My mind forms a question: did this drawing spark Mantegna’s imagination to conceive an image of Christ which helps us to anticipate the Resurrection?