The Lamentation Over the Body of Christ, by Giovanni Bellini

The Lamentation Over the Body of Christ, 1506
Giovanni Bellini
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Oil on wood
76cm by 121cm

Giovanni Bellini and his workshop created the Lamentation over the Body of Christ during the High Renaissance Era. They produced several variations of this theme, but this particular work is significant because of the dramatic chiaroscuro technique that is utilized. This clearly classifies the painting as High Renaissance, as the technique very commonly used by artists during this time period, including Leonardo da Vinci. Literally, chiaroscuro means light and dark. The contrast between the darkness and light allows for a more dramatic effect, and it originated during the Renaissance time period.

It can be said that Renaissance art is the rebirth of ancient traditions. The artists began combining the traditions of classical antiquity and the new ideas taken from the artistic developments in Northern Europe. A humanistic style was emerging and was integrated into the art of this time. Other characterizations of the time period were showing a linear and atmospheric perspective, perfecting anatomy, and balance and symmetry.

In Bellini’s painting, the figures are arranged so that the ones closest to the viewer are on the left-hand side, while those on the right are farther away from the viewer. However, the larger figure to Jesus’ left helps to balance the picture, so that across the front of the scene, the figures that are most prominent are also the largest, and they get smaller and lighter as it goes back. Consequently, the scene is well balanced with Christ as the focal point in the middle. All of the figures surrounding Christ are focused on him with their heads point centrally in His direction, drawing the viewer’s eyes there as well.  The middle of the artwork is also lighter where Jesus’ body sits while the edges gradually grow darker. This use of light and balance further classify the painting as High Renaissance.

Because of the way that Christ’s knee is prominent in the forefront of the scene, the wall between the figures in the setting and the viewer is broken and as a result the viewer feels more involved in the work. This technique is also classically Renaissance, and is used in many of da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael’s works. These three artists are typically known as the three great painters of the Renaissance and because they all used these techniques in order to perfect their work.

Also utilized in Bellini’s painting are the precise details of human anatomy. Artists in the Renaissance wanted to make their pieces as realistic as possible so that the viewers could relate to the art in a more personal way. The figures all have normal human proportions and the detail of the painting is very precise. Especially in their faces where their emotions are so clear that the viewer feels as though he is experiencing the same pain as the loved ones of Jesus. The sorrow on Mary’s face, the figure on the far left, touches the heart of the viewer in a way that no art from other eras had done before.

Through all of these techniques, Bellini’s Lamentation over the Body of Christ is very clearly characterized as a High Renaissance artwork. The utilization of symmetry, lighting, anatomy, and detail by Bellini has given his painting a place in the hearts of many viewers because they were able to relate to the scene in a very real way.


Works Cited

Kren, Emil, and Daniel Marx. “Bellini, Giovanni.” Web Gallery of Art. 1996. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <;.

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