Emotions of Grief, Sadness, Sorrow, Devotion and Despair: the emotions of grief and sorrow resonate throughout the painting in the faces of all the characters, and in the hearts of the viewer; they observe the dead body of Jesus with sorrow and grave sadness; Mary Magdalene kneels with her hands in sign of prayer, interceding in Christ’s behalf and evoking emotions of devotion and despair.
Throughout the painting various symbolisms are used to describe the scene and add references to the viewer;
Saint James the Greater: holds a staff on his left hand and hat hanging (probably by a thread) on his back, right behind his neck (symbolic of the pilgrim).
Saint Bernardine of Siena: wears a monogram “IHC” (first three letters of the word “Jesus” in Greek) with rays emanating from it (devotion to the “Holy Name of Jesus”) that he is holding.
Skull and Bones: on the left side of the floor in the main panel, the skull and the bones are symbolic not only of death and the earthly, acting as a reminder of its inevitable outcome for Man, but also the the permanence beyond death, as bones are the last remains of the body to decay, as the memory of Christ would remain in people’s lives.
Colour is used with its different associations to evoke specific symbols and associations:
Red and Violence: hues of red predominant in the Ephesians clothes (Nicodemus in the darkest tones, Joseph and Peter in the same bright red) represent the violence and anguish of the tragedy that has surpassed;
Green and Hope: the green present in the dark hue of Mary Magdalene’s Clothing, and in the bright hue of Saint James the Great’s clothing, represents hope, and acts as an anticipation of what is yet to come (the resurrection);
Black and Mourning: black, as the colour of mourners and sorrow, is worn by the Virgin Mary and the patrons.
White Light and the Sacred: used by Jesus in the cloth wrapped around his body, it symbolizes the purity of His essence.
Darkness and Sobriety Versus the Lightness of the Sky: dark clothing and mood is prevalent in the figures and in the overall front scene, reflecting the somber and sad mood of the moment; the bright sky in the background creates a contrasting dramatic effect.
Light and Holiness: the luminosity of the skin of three main characters (Jesus, Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene) acts as symbol of Sacredness and Holiness, making them stand out visually as the central figures of the composition, but also emotionally and spiritually as beacons and examples of the Light of God; Jesus shines the lighter.
Metaphorically, the time of transition between day and night (or night and day), is a time of change, of transition and transformation; reflects the ‘miraculous’ side of nature, the passing of time, and the eternal cycles of life to which man belongs to. The soft pastel tones of a setting or rising sun, also add to the overall mood of the scene, to a melancholic sense of grief.
The grief and sorrow felt when Christ sacrificed himself for humankind, with no hope for his return. A popular imagery utilized to make the viewer reflect on his sins, and make him seek redemption.