As Christ's body is lowered from the cross, mourners support the Virgin, near collapse under the weight of grief. Viewers are meant to feel the same harrowing sadness, and Danti uses the high relief of the foreground figures to intensify this response. Nearly in the round, their awkward, off-balance poses are accentuated to convey in a physical way the wrenching force of emotion.
By contrast, the two thieves crucified with Christ nearly merge into the background, the crosses only incised on the surface. It is easy to understand these lines as drawn through the soft wax model from which the bronze was cast. The minimal chasing and polishing that was done after casting leave the pliant textures and immediacy of the modeled wax. In this regard, the Descent is a demonstration of virtuoso technique -- as most bronzes would require more treatment to correct casting flaws.
Christ's body has the elongated, elegant proportions of mannerist works -- a style that emphasized self-conscious artifice over naturalistic depiction. Mannerism, sometimes viewed as a reaction to the clarity and unity of the High Renaissance, can also be seen as a natural extension of it, for example in the emphatic modeling of Michelangelo, whom Danti himself cited as his greatest influence.
Descent from the Cross
DIMENSIONS: 44.5 x 47.1 cm (17 1/2 x 18 1/2 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Widener Collection
ACCESSION NUMBER: 1942.9.111