28 Items in this Learning Collection
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Descent into Limbo

Accession Number

Descent into Limbo

Zoan Andrea; Andrea Mantegna; Italian

Object Creation Date
circa 1475-1480

Medium & Support
engraving on laid paper

16 in x 12 3/16 in (40.64 cm x 30.96 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase made possible by the Friends of the Museum of Art

Label copy
The subject of this engraving, the Descent into Limbo (also known as the Harrowing of Hell), is one of the scenes in the cycle of the Passion of Christ that was particularly popular in medieval and Renaissance art. According to Christian belief, because the Old Testament saints had lived in an era in which they had not benefited from the Christian sacraments, their souls were confined to Limbo, a region on the border of Hell, until Christ could come to free them. Christ, bearing his standard, is shown standing on the broken gate of Hell reaching into the doorway to rescue the Old Testament forefathers, three of whom stand, nude, cowering at right, tormented by devils. At left, a figure, possibly the Good Thief, stands holding a large cross. Mantegna represented the leaning Christ in a novel and startling pose—from the rear—with the result that the viewer might identify with Christ’s stance and look upon the scene as he did. The print is very likely unfinished, as there are no clouds in the sky and no detail in the landscape.
Gallery label text, collections gallery, by Curator Annette Dixon, February, 2000

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
black and white print

Collection Area

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nudes (representations)

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& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted