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The Museo del Prado is displaying Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ, a masterpiece loaned from the Vatican Museums Friday, July 22, 2011

To coincide with the celebration of World Youth Day and with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Madrid, the Museo del Prado will be displaying The Entombment of Christ, a major masterpiece by Caravaggio loaned from the Vatican Museums. For the first time in Spain, this monumental canvas will be exhibited for two months at the Prado thanks to sponsorship from the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado and as part of the “Invited Work” exhibition programme. This exceptional loan is also part of the thematic tour entitled “The Word made Image. Paintings of Christ in the Museo del Prado” that the Museum has devised in conjunction with World Youth Day and which includes a further thirteen paintings.

The Museo del Prado is displaying Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ, a masterpiece loaned from the Vatican Museums

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The Entombment of Christ, 1602-1604 Oil on canvas, 306 x 214cm Vatican City, the Vatican Museums

As part of its “Invited Work” exhibition programme and for a period of two months (21 July to 18 September 2011), the Museo del Prado is offering visitors the exceptional opportunity to see The Entombment of Christ (1602-1604) by Caravaggio, a work that has never previously travelled to Spain. One of the revolutionary Italian painter’s most important works, it is normally housed in the Vatican Museums. Its loan constitutes a particularly special contribution by Pope Benedict XVI to the city that is hosting World Youth Day this year. As a result of this loan, the Museo del Prado has the privilege of offering visitors the chance to see this remarkable work that received the unanimous approval of critics when it was first created and which was not the subject of any criticisms, as was generally the case on the presentation of work by the brilliant but controversial Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio.

In addition, and also in conjunction with World Youth Day and the Pope’s visit to Madrid, The Entombment of Christ will form part of the thematic tour entitled “The Word made Image. Paintings of Christ in the Museo del Prado” that the Museum has devised (in collaboration with World Youth Day 2011) around a group of fourteen selected masterpieces from its collection that depict different episodes from the life of Christ.

The Entombment of Christ

The year 1604 was of particular importance in the life of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio (Milan, September 1571 – Porto Ercole, July 1610). In addition to a lengthy series of legal problems arising from his irascible, argumentative character, it is known that on 1 September of that year the artist presented The Entombment of Christ, a work very probably commissioned by Girolamo Vittrice for the main altar of his family chapel in the Roman church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as the Chiesa Nuova, which belonged to the Oratorians of Saint Philip Neri. On its public presentation the work was greeted with heartfelt admiration by the artist’s contemporary biographers and there was no sign of the negative opinions that so often marked the reception of Caravaggio’s works.

In The Entombment of Christ, Caravaggio arranged the figures in a compact composition consisting of a group outlined against a dark background, structured through a diagonal line that starts in the lower left corner and runs across to the other side of the canvas. In the foreground on the right are Nicodemus, who turns his face to the viewer, and Saint John the Evangelist, both of whom bear Christ’s body. Christ’s hand brushes the slab on which he will be washed, anointed and perfumed in a gesture that probably refers to him as the corner-stone and foundation of the Church. Behind the two men are Christ’s mother Mary in a contained pose, Mary Magdalen, who dries her tears with a white handkerchief, and Mary of Cleophas, who raises her arms to the sky in a gesture of desolate grief. Seen together, the three women constitute different, complementary expressions of suffering. With this work Caravaggio created a strikingly monumental and dramatic image for the altar piece and one that is emphasised by the pronounced chiaroscuro in which the scene is enveloped.

Different iconographical sources have been proposed for the painting and it is clear that Caravaggio derived the body of Christ from Michelangelo’s Pietà, a work to which he frequently made reference in his own creations. In addition, it has been suggested on various occasions that the manner of presenting the lifeless body of Christ is based on classical reliefs. Caravaggio, however, reworked these sources and influences to create a work that is completely new from an iconographical and spiritual viewpoint.

The painting was looted in 1797 by the Napoleonic troops with the intention of adding it to the collection of the Musée Napoléon in Paris. It was returned to Rome in 1817, at which point it entered the Vatican Museum.

Tour, “The Word made Image. Paintings of Christ in the Museo del Prado”

Comprising thirteen masterpieces from the Museum’s collection, in addition to the invited work The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio, this thematic tour entitled “The Word made Image. Paintings of Christ in the Museo del Prado” offers visitors a different perspective on works by Rubens, El Greco, Velázquez, Zurbarán and the anonymous Castilian painter who created the murals in Santa Cruz de Maderuelo. The tour focuses on the religious content of these works and also emphasises the artistic solutions that artists have deployed over the centuries to resolve specific iconographic issues.

Based around these paintings, the tour aims to give visual form to some of the metaphorical descriptions of Christ to be found in the Gospels, particularly that of Saint John (the Good Shepherd; the Light of the World; the Way, the Truth and the Life; and also Agnus Dei, Rex maiestatis and Salvator mundi) in order to allow visitors to reflect on both religious and artistic issues.

The route is marked in the galleries by special explanatory labels in Spanish and English, identifiable by the World Youth Day 2011 logo. This information is supplemented by a free leaflet and a short guide in two editions (Spanish and English) written by María Luisa Gómez Nebreda. The guide offers more details on the meaning of each work and costs 5 Euros at the Museum.

Further informational material is available in the form of an audioguide on the paintings in this tour and which focuses in particular on iconography. In addition, there will be free guided tours given by members of the Museum’s Education Department.

Guided tours will take place in August, with two a day from Tuesdays to Fridays at 11.30am and 4.30pm. During the actual week of World Youth Day, from Tuesday 16 to Sunday 21 August, there will be three tours a day at 10am, 12 noon and 4.30pm.

The tour of “The Word made Image. Paintings of Christ in the Museo del Prado” can also be undertaken through an interactive presentation of the itinerary on the Museum’s website,, which also includes a video with ambient sound that presents an interesting sequence of details of the image of Christ in eighteen paintings, including the “Invited Work”.

Special, free entry

In addition, and in a special initiative to coincide with World Youth Day, the Museum will be opening its two main floors on the nights of 16, 17 and 18 August, from 8.30pm to midnight. There will be free entry for all visitors on those nights as this will be considered an extension to the normal free visiting hours (Tuesdays to Saturdays, 6pm to 8pm), although the principal aim of this initiative is to enable pilgrims to participate in the special thematic tour organised for them thanks to the sponsorship of World Youth Day 2011.

Between 16 and 21 August and in order to encourage participation in this tour during normal opening hours (9am to 8pm), entry to the Permanent Collection will be free for all pilgrims who show their individual World Youth Day 201 passes at the Museum’s ticket desks. Members of the public without these passes will pay the normal, applicable entry fee. In the light of an anticipated high number of visitors on these days, members of the general public are recommended to acquire pre-booked, timed tickets on or on tel: 902 107 077.

The complete programme associated with “The Word made Image. Paintings of the Christ in the Museo del Prado”, including the range of explanatory material that has been prepared to assist in a better understanding of this tour, has been sponsored by World Youth Day 2011.