Caravaggio-The-Deposition-(c.1603)Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), The Deposition, c.1603. Also called “The Entombment of Christ,” but that’s not what is depicted. John and Nicodemus are laying the body of Jesus on the stone to be bathed and anointed before burial. We see grieving Mary the Mother, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Cleophas, the three women John wrote were present at the Crucifixion. I’ve been to the Vatican, but I saw this enormous altarpiece at the Art Institute of Chicago during a traveling exhibition in the ’80s. It dominated the gallery; a stunning, physical presence. A canvas almost 7×10 feet—the figures are life-size. The impact of it can’t be conveyed by an image on a screen. Caravaggio was one of the artists who moved painting from stylized iconography into palpable realism. What struck me most was the depth of the painting. We have what is called the “picture plane,” the window pane through which we view the subject. When something “breaks the plane,” it escapes the space of the painting and enters the space of the viewer. That’s what happens with both Nicodemus’ elbow and the stone underfoot. Notice that only two sides of the stone are rendered. Only the slightest suggestion of the top surface is indicated by a notch in the edge on the right and a fold of cloth on the left, with Jesus’ fingertips. When you stand there, the corner of that stone juts out and pokes you in the eye. The effect is heightened by the “clamps” that seem to squeeze the receding planes, two stones on the left and a stone and Nicodemus’ foot on the right. Caravaggio worked in grisaille, shades of gray, (called brunaille in brown, verdaille in green), then applied color in multiple transparent glazes. Notice how brilliant is the scarlet draping over John’s shoulder, drawing our eyes to the center of the composition and emphasizing the importance of Mary, John and Nicodemus.