In 1907 the Institut d'Estudis Catalans organised a scientific expedition to the Pyrenees with the aim of studying mediaeval art, particularly in the Boí Valley. Taking part in this expedition were, among others, 'Mossèn' Gudiol, curator of the Museu Episcopal de Vic, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, architect, archaeologist and future president of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. One of the main discoveries was this sculpture ensemble of the 'Descent from the Cross' found in disuse in the small church of Santa Eulàlia in Erill la Vall. The carvings of the Virgin and Saint John were purchased shortly afterwards by the collector Lluís Plandiura and since 1932 have been part of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya's collection. The rest of the ensemble was purchased on the antiques dealers' market by 'Mossèn' Gudiol in 1911 and since then has been in the Museu Episcopal de Vic. It is one of the most important ensembles of 12th-century European Romanesque woodcarving, given its exceptional artistic quality and the fact that not too many monumental woodcarvings of this size have been conserved. The scene depicts the moment when Nicodemus removes Christ's hand from the cross, while Joseph of Arimathea takes the weight of Christ's body on his shoulders. On the right of the group we see the image of the thief Dimas, dead on the cross with his tongue sticking out, and on the other side the thief Gestas. Seeing as the arms of the figures are articulated it has been supposed that their use must have been related to the mediaeval liturgical plays of the Easter cycle that were performed in churches during Holy Week. The schematic study of the anatomy of Christ's body and the contained movement of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus demonstrate that we are dealing with a brilliant artist who was able to express the 'pathos' of this moment with a sculptural language that even today still surprises us by its modernity. We do not know the name of the master who carved these figures although he has traditionally been attributed to a hypothetical workshop in Erill, active during the first half of the 12th century, by which other similar sculptures are conserved, mostly from the Boí Valley.
The expedition and the discovery of the Descent