The Descent from the Cross is part of the Passion in its traditional form as the moment before Jesus’ burial. In the Gospels the event is briefly described and features Joseph of Arimathea as the mediator before Pilate for the delivery of Jesus’ body. As a typical scene in religious art, it has undergone many transformations over time: from sobriety in the Middle Ages to heightened drama in the Baroque period, with well-known iconographic derivations such as the Pietà, The Dead Christ supported by Two Angels, The Man of Sorrows, and finally The Lamentation of Christ.
In the Via Crucis series, Fernando Botero depicts the Descent from the Cross and its thematic derivations in five oil paintings and three drawings marked by the boldness of the compositions and the use of color as not only a formal but also a rhetorical element to reinforce the dramatic value of each scene.
The paintings are large-scale works in which the monumental body of Jesus seems to have no weight, as is clearly seen in the works Pietà, 2010 and Mary and Dead Jesus, 2011. In this way, Botero has explored, based on the visual lightness of Jesus’ body, different compositions of pictorial space in which zigzagging lines reinforce the pain experienced by the characters, mostly female, on whom the artist has unloaded the full weight of tragedy.
The gesture of the crying woman dates back to the artist’s earliest works, such as the watercolor The Crying Woman of 1949, and will be repeated insistently in many of his paintings and drawings, replicating a gesture that belongs to the repertoire of Western art history and imagination. It is a subject similarly present in journalistic photography, where it is often presented as an element of media coverage related to numerous wars as an effective way of depicting human suffering.
Botero’s Via Crucis depicts an image of Jesus in the contemporary world, amid impoverished areas or made-up communities, with only one reference to a particular location—Central Park in New York. The biblical characters lack haloes, and the oil painting’s depiction of the supernatural is limited to the presence of an angel holding a lighted candle in the Entombment of Christ, 2010. This collection, as the artist has always described it, is an examination of what painting has to say about a subject that has become increasingly important to Western art and society throughout time. Thus, in the fullness of his creative vision, it may also be seen as a profound meditation on suffering and the human condition.