The Entombment and The Man of Sorrows
In the Gospels Mary Magdalene and another Mary watch Joseph of Arimathea wrap Jesus' body in a linen cloth and lay it in a tomb hewn out from a crag or rock.1 The fresco above represents an iconographic type that covers this episode and has been particularly popular in the East and in western areas influenced by Byzantine art (example). Some sources call it the "Lamentation" while others refer to it as the "Entombment." Joseph of Arimathea gets ready to fold the cloth over the body, and almost always Nicodemus stands behind him gesturing as shown here. Mary kisses her son's face or simply presses her face to his. In some versions St. Mary Magdalene kisses his hand; in others she stands behind the sarcophagus with her hands raised in a cry of grief and it is John who kisses the hand. In some simpler compositions, it is Mary who kisses the hand while Joseph and Nicodemus lift the body by its head and feet.

The image above shows the tomb to be "hewed out in a rock" (Matthew 27:60), but many do not.

This iconographic type continues in use in the East through the Middle Ages and into the present day – see Tradigo, 139-42, and this example. Camps y Monserrat Pagès (17) cites a panel from 1200-1220 as an example of Byzantine influences on Catalan art. It has Joseph and Nicodemus working at either end of the body and Mary kissing her son's hand while Saints John and Mary Magdalene stand behind her. In the 14th and 15th centuries western artists either alter the type to increase the pathos or abandon it altogether. Thus in the predella below it is a weeping St. Martha who kisses Jesus' hand, not St. John. And another woman replaces Joseph of Arimathea at the feet, which she is kissing. And the artist has highlighted Mary Magdalene's grieving gesture by moving her to an open space near the center. At the same time the men, being less emotional, are bunched together on the left.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, predella to a Madonna with Saints Martha and Mary Magdalene, first half of the 14th century. See the description page for a larger picture and commentary.
Other artists explore a wide variety of ways to picture the entombment, as can be seen in the "more images" list at right. Several of these are labeled as the "Deposition" of Christ, although that word is conventionally applied to images of the body's removal from the cross. In the Stations of the Cross, the 13th station is the Deposition and the 14th the Entombment.

Another quite different way of picturing the entombment is the "Man of Sorrows" image type, also known as the imago pietatis. This is not so much a narrative as an occasion for devotional contemplation of Christ as the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53,3-5:
Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.
The imagery of the Man of Sorrows began in 12th-century icons in the East, where it is thought to have been modeled on the Holy Shroud, which was on display in Con­stan­tin­ople until the sack of 1204.2 By the 14th century it had gained great popularity in the West. The fresco below exemplifies the iconography in its fullest form: The wounded body is seen waist-up, standing in a sarcophagus and supported by Mary and John. The viewer contemplates the crown of thorns, the wounds in Jesus' hands and side, and his sorrowful expression. In this example and some others, objects from the Passion narrative provide further opportunity for meditation.
15th-century fresco in the parish church of Mariapfarr, Austria. See the description page for analysis of the details in the image.
The hands may be held up by Mary and John as in this example, but more commonly they are posed so as to emphasize the nail-wounds, either crossed at the wrist as in the second picture at right or hanging disconsolately, as in this example. Like those two examples, many will omit Mary and John and leave only the body for contemplation. Rarely, the Man of Sorrows will be pictured full-length and covered in blood, either accompanied by saints (example) or solo (example). Some examples emphasize the relation between Jesus' sacrificial suffering and the sacraments. In this one, for example, the sarcophagus is reimagined as an altar. And in this one the Man of Sorrows stands in a chalice. In two examples published in Zarur and Lowell (figures 124 and 125), he kneels in a baptismal font filled with blood and surrounded by seven lambs.

The inspirational power of the Man of Sorrows image is attested by no less than Teresa of Avila, whose life was changed by it:
It came to pass one day, when I went into the oratory, that I saw a picture which they had put by there.… It was a representation of Christ most grievously wounded, and so devotional, that the very sight of it, when I saw it, moved me – so well did it show forth that which He suffered for us. So keenly did I feel the evil return I had made for those wounds, that I thought my heart was breaking. I threw myself on the ground beside it, my tears flowing plenteously, and implored Him to strengthen me once for all, so that I might never offend Him any more.… I was now very distrustful of myself, placing all my confidence in God.3

A third way of imagining the entombment is seen Latin countries, where church visitors will sometimes find life-size sculptures of the wounded and bleeding Christ in glass-sided coffins (example). These are taken out and used in processions during Holy Week.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.



1 Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15::42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42. Mark's gospel gives the fullest acoount: "And when evening was now come, (because it was the Parasceve, that is, the day before the sabbath,) Joseph of Arimathea, a noble counsellor, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, came and went in boldly to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. But Pilate wondered that he should be already dead. And sending for the centurion, he asked him if he were already dead. And when he had understood it by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And Joseph buying fine linen, and taking him down, wrapped him up in the fine linen, and laid him in a sepulchre [Latin, monumentum] which was hewed out of a rock [Latin, excisum de petra]. And he rolled a stone to the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of Joseph, beheld where he was laid [Latin, aspiciebant ubi poneretur]."

2 Tradigo, 232.

3 Autobiography, IX, 1,3.

The entombment panel from the Passion frescos at Aquileia's Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. (See the description page.)

In a sculpture at Vienna's St. Stephen Cathedral, the Man of Sorrows is placed at the summit of a pilaster. See the description page.


  • 1280-85: The burial is among the events pictured in the great central tympanum on the façade of Strasbourg Cathedral.
  • 1351-60: Fresco in Pomposa Abbey, Italy.
  • 1425 circa: A fresco in Cračišće, Croatia.
  • 1440s: Fra Angelico's Entombment of Christ in a Dominican friar's cell in the convent of San Marco, Florence.
  • 1443: The "anchor panel" in Vivarini's Polyptych of the Body of Christ portrays the Man of Sorrows.
  • 1595: Annibale Carracci's Burial of Christ is one of the few that follow the gospel accounts rather than the traditional imagery.
  • Late 16th/early 17th century: Palma il Giovane's The Deposition of Christ pictures the entombment, with the three empty crosses in the far background.
  • 1600: Caravaggio's mistitled The Deposition blends traditional and gospel-based details into a characteristically Caravaggiesque drama.
  • 1604: Another Entombment by Palma il Giovane.
  • 1702: Rodríguez Juárez follows Caravaggio's arrangement of characters in his less dramatic Entombment of Christ.


  • Early 14th century: Relief at the entry to St. Andrew's Church, Venice.
  • 14th century: This unusual fresco in Salamanca pictures the Man of Sorrows fully clothed and without the nail marks in his hands.
  • Late 14th century: Panel in a portable altar in Venice.
  • 14th-15th century: Galician Fresco of the Man of Sorrows with objects from the Passion narratives.
  • 1430: Giambono's Man of Sorrows.
  • 1440s: A fresco by Fra Angelico and assistants in a friar's cell in the convent of San Marco, Florence.
  • 1443: In Vivarini's Polyptych of the Body of Christ Mary and John are pictured not flanking but above the Man of Sorrows, mourning with other disciples.
  • 1450 circa: Ivan Petrov placed the Man of Sorrows at the summit of his Ugljan Polyptych.
  • Uncertain, possibly 15th century: Fresco in Mariapfarr, Austria with a unique posing of the hands.
  • Mid-16th century fresco with women mourners to the left and right of Mary and John.
  • Undated: Man of Sorrows iconography is adapted to a painted panel in a Venetian chapel announcing the presence of a vial of Christ's blood.