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Overview

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.

Provenance

(Stefano Bardini [1836-1922], Florence).[1] Oscar Hainauer [d. 1894], Berlin. (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York); purchased 2 June 1908 by Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;[2] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History
2008
I Grandi Bronzi del Battistero. L'Arte di Vincenzo Danti, Discepolo di Michelangelo [The Grand Bronzes of the Baptistery. The Art of Vincenzo Danti, Disciple of Michelangelo], Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, 2008, no. 22, repro.
Bibliography
1897
Bode, Wilhelm von, ed. Die Sammlung Oscar Hainauer / The Collection of Oscar Hainauer. [bound as one volume, English and German pages interleaved in one page sequence] Berlin, 1897 and London, 1906: no. 126.
1942
Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 8.
1944
Duveen Brothers, Inc. Duveen Sculpture in Public Collections of America: A Catalog Raisonné with illustrations of Italian Renaissance Sculptures by the Great Masters which have passed through the House of Duveen. New York, 1944: fig. 223.
1948
Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 125, repro.
1949
Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 181, note 44, repro. 136-138.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 150.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 133, repro.
1979
Summers, David. The Sculpture of Vincenzo Danti: A Study in the Influence of Michelangelo and the Ideals of the Maniera. New York and London, 1979: 356--7, repro.
1983
Wilson, Carolyn C. Renaissance Small Bronze Sculpture and Associated Decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1983: 191.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 636, no. 997, repro.
1989
Santi, Francesco. Vincenzo Danti Scultore (1530-1576). Bologna, 1989: no. 25, repro.
1992
Penny, Nicholas. Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum: 1540 to the Present Day 3 vols. Oxford, 1992: I: 160.
1994
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 51, repro.
1996
Fidanza, Giovan Battista. Vincenzo Danti 1530-1573. Florence, 1996: no. 26, repro.