Pieter van der Heyden: Descent of Christ into Limbo (1559 - 1563)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

An engraving by the Flemish artist Pieter van der Heyden (1530-1572), after a design by the Flemish master Pieter Brueghel the elder (1525-1569). Today is 'Holy Saturday' of the Holy Week, the day between the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection. Traditionally this is the day Christ descended into Limbo (aka 'the harrowing of Hell'). After his death at the cross, the soul of Christ was supposed to have descended into 'the place of the dead' and brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world. According to the Old Testament view of the afterlife was that all people, whether righteous or unrighteous, went to 'the place of the dead' (Sheol) when they died. Only after the the redemption by Christ could they enter Heaven. Pieter van der Heyden shows Christ in a sphere of light, surrounded by angels who are making music and demons. At the bottom is the Latin text "Tollite o portae capita vestra attollimini fores sempiternae ut ingredietur rex ille gloriosus." (Psalm 24:7), which translated as "Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in". Engraving from 1559-1563.