Rembrandt van Rijn
The three crosses
Drypoint and burin printed on laid paper, 1653
Transferred from Cambridge University Library 1876
Before this impression was printed, Rembrandt transformed the subject by burnishing out or redrawing many of the figures on the plate, and gouging deep lines of shadow to alter the effects and significance of light and shade. The moment depicted is no longer Christ's death, but the moment before, when he cried out 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matthew 27:46). Christ's mouth is still open and his eyes only half-closed. The 'good' thief, shrouded in a curtain of darkness, has yet to be redeemed by the heavenly light. The Virgin is in a deeper swoon, and St John spreads his arms instead of clenching his fists to his head. The kneeling centurion and his horse are replaced by a high-hatted rider (copied from a medal by Pisanello of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga) perhaps intended as Pilate.
This is a very richly inked impression which accentuates the dramatic changes Rembrandt made to the plate. It was previously thought that changes made in this state date from the early 1660s, but recent research into watermarks has proved that they were made soon after the earlier state was printed.