One of the masterpieces of Renaissance art is undoubtedly the Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell'Arca, a group of full figured terracotta sculptures with a strong expressiveness. It is located in Bologna, in the church of Santa Maria della Vita.
Niccoló dell'Arca was mentioned for the first time in September 1462 in Bologna as Maestro Nicolò da Puglia, a “master of terracotta figures”. This probably refers to the “Compianto sul Cristo morto”, terracotta group in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna (also mentioned in a Bull of 1464 by Pope Paul II). A life-size group of six separate figures stand lamenting in a semicircle around the dead Christ in a lying posture. The dramatic pathos, the expressions of grief and torment of the figures is intensified by the realism of their dramatic facial details. However, the date of this innovative contribution to Renaissance sculpture is uncertain. Instead of c. 1460, some date it between 1485 and 1490.
Although these figures in the sculptural group were originally painted, today, they are now pretty much in the unpainted terracotta status. Still the powerfully expressively quality, reminiscent of Northern Gothic art, remains. The figures represent, of course, those who were present at Christ's entombment, although the Biblical versions are not entirely consistent. Present in this grouping are from left to right: Joseph of Arimathea (not pictured here), Mary (Salome--the mother of John the Evangelist), the Virgin Mary, John, Mary (of Cleophas--Mother of James the Lesser), and Mary Magdalen.
The grief of Mary Salome is communicated through the faltering position, as if she is sinking into the ground. Like the open mouths of the other women, hers is releasing a cry of pain.