Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Art History

Abstract

In this thesis, I use primary sources to illustrate the religious climate surrounding the creation of Rogier van der Weyden’s masterwork, The Descent from the Cross (before 1433), also called the Deposition. In particular, I focus on the written works of Saint Bridget of Sweden and Thomas à Kempis to contextualize the altarpiece. I use St. Bridget’s writings to give a sense of the extra-canonical spirituality of the early modern era, as well as to illustrate the long tradition of expounding upon the relatively short passages found in the Bible for key events in the Christian worldview, particularly the Crucifixion. I use Thomas à Kempis’ works to show a resistance to a devotion style that only came from the Catholic Church, specifically through a discussion of lay piety.

Within this framework, I discuss the Deposition as representative of concepts of ‘vision’ and of ‘performance’. The ‘vision’ aspect ties to St. Bridget and concepts of seeing within an early modern framework. Vision also relates to compositional elements, that then relate to broader theological points imparted by these details. ‘Performance’ relates to how lay people interacted with works of art as a form of personal devotion within a larger spirituality. Performance in this regard also relates to the broad way that early modern people interacted with their own religion and spirituality; in a time where the main doctrine of the religion was not taught in the vernacular, the burden of emotional connection rested in great part with images such as the Deposition.

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