March 13th 2021

“Lament over the Dead Christ”,  Giovanni Bellini 1473-6,  Vatican Museums.     You can view this image in high resolution on the Vatican Museums website Gallery website at—secolo-xv-xvi/giovanni-bellini–compianto-sul-cristo-morto.html

This painting is also known as “The Anointing of Christ” because it shows the dead body of Christ being anointed before burial.  Joseph of Arimathea supports the body. Nicodemus holds a container of ointment while Mary Magdalene anoints the wound made by the nail in Christ’s hand.  We cannot see this wound but we do see the wound in his side and the blood mixed with water which flows from it, as recounted in John’s Gospel (Jn19:34).  In all four gospels Joseph of Arimathaea asks Pilate for the body of Christ. He wraps the body of Jesus in a clean linen shroud and lays it in a new tomb before sunset, which was  when the Sabbath began. Only John mentions that Nicodemus “who had at first come to him by night”  brought  “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” to anoint the body (Jn 19:39).  In this image, Bellini has Mary Magdalene join them.  She anoints his hand, but all three play their part in this act.  This image was made for the top of an altarpiece in a Franciscan Church in Pesaro.   Altarpieces often had an image of the dead Christ in this position.  Typically, the dead Christ would be supported by his mother and St John or by angels so that the focus was on lamentation.  Here the focus is on the anointing and on the sacraments.  The dead body of Christ is surrounded by the kernel of a body which will comprise disciples, and will draw life from the flow of blood and water. It is all set against an evening sky.  Nicodemus, who once came to Jesus by night because of the signs he worked, now comes to Jesus by day because of his death.  He has come to faith in the Crucified Saviour.  Nicodemus  has come to the light (Jn 3:21).   


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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