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The Entombment

The Entombment (c. 1500-1501) is an unfinished painting in oil on wood by Michelangelo that depicts the placing of the body of Jesus in the garden tomb. There is some disagreement over the identity of the various figures represented. The bearded older man behind Jesus is thought to be Joseph of Arimathea, who gave up his tomb for use as Christ's sepulchre. Saint John the Evangelist is usually shown in red with long hair, and may be the figure on the left carrying Christ. The kneeling figure to the left is probably Mary Magdalene who appears to meditate on something in her raised hand. A drawing by Michelangelo in the Louvre, Paris, is clearly a preparatory study for this figure and shows her with the crown of thorns and the nails with which Christ had been crucified. The woman at the back right is a Holy Woman (Mary Salome) and the other figure is probably Nicodemus. The Virgin is prepared in outline in the bottom right corner.

The floating appearance of some of the figures may be partly explained by the fact that the painting is intended to be viewed from below, and to the fact that it is unfinished. However, the apparent incongruity of the stance of the bearer on the right remains problematical.

The picture came from a collection in Rome, and is thought to be connected with payments made to Michelangelo between 1501 and 1502 relating to an altarpiece for Sant Agostino in Rome which he failed to deliver. This would explain the unfinished state of this painting.

The Entombment is now housed in the UK National Gallery in London.

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