He was strongly influenced by Gerard David, and it seems likely that he worked in David’s studio; there are stylistic similarities in their work. Isenbrant was not innovative, & he also referred to such artists as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Albrecht Dürer, & Jan Gossart.
The quality of his many works is uneven, even within a single painting which could be explained by studio collaboration. At least once he is known to have repainted works by another artist to suit local taste. His best paintings are small and medium-sized religious scenes. None are signed.
The scene is Golgotha, with Jerusalem in the background. Nicodemus, on the ladder, gently lowers Christ’s body to Joseph of Arimathea, who stands at the foot of the cross with his hands supporting Christ’s legs. Mary, in the white coif, kisses her son’s hand. On the left behind Mary, is John, to whose care Jesus committed her. The grieving woman in the black coif is probably Mary, James’ mother. The younger woman in the cap,looking up at Christ, is Mary Magdalen. On the right, weeping and holding two large nails, is probably “the other Mary.” By use of restrained gestures and expressive light, Isenbrant has endowed the scene with exceptional pathos and dignity.
The whole work has a classic gravity previously seen only in Italian work with the typically Renaissance integration of figures and rational landscape. The city, of course, looks more like one in Flanders than it does Jerusalem.
The color scheme is generally warm, almost rosy – except for that menacing blue, aqua, & gray sky about to deliver the dread storm over them all. It is in this almost surreal background that the new idiom of Mannerism is most evident. Background depth is suggested , but it’s still somewhat out of kilter and plane.
The old traditional Flemish realism is present in the detailed clothing and faces, as well as the delicately painted plants and trees.
There are 2 triangles, giving us Renaissance stability:
So the painting gives us this moving, visual display of Christ’s torment, & the symbolism tells the viewer that redemption is central to Christianity as well as the thinking of the time.
A typical memento mori is the skull in Dürer’s etching of Jerome in his study. Or, an entire painting can be a memento mori such as the Vanitas by Peter Claesz (1623), an oil on wood in the Metropolitan, NY.
During the Renaissance, a small ornament in the shape of a skull was often carried, usually finely crafted and often jeweled.