26 APRIL 2003, Page 31

Christ as God and Man

From Mr Christopher Howse Sir: Michael Prodger's fascinating piece on Holbein's 'Dead Christ in the Tomb' (Arts, 19 April) suggests that it shows the dead body 'when Christ was neither man nor deity'. That is how it might look, but the belief of the time (1521) was that the body of Christ, though separated from his human soul, was still hypostatically united with the Second Person of the Trinity. Christ remained God and Man.

This is not an academic point, for the teaching was well known at the time, and entered into the annual celebration of Easter. Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday a sepulchre would be prepared in church (some stone examples still survive in English churches), and it was the custom to lay there the reserved Sacrament — like the dead Christ another example of the presence of God not easily discernible.

The genre of dead Christs was much more familiar in the early 16th century than now (although naturalistic effigies are common in foreign countries). From two decades or so earlier than Holbein's painting is the no less arresting depiction in foreshortened perspective by Mantegna. Christopher Howse London SW1