The theme of the Lamentation is traditional, although it is not described in the Bible. It shows Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and others, weeping over his body after the Crucifixion. Rembrandt's picture is carefully constructed to connect with other episodes of the story of Christ's suffering and death. The two thieves remind us of the Crucifixion itself. The figures climbing down the ladders recall the Deposition, when Christ's body was brought down from the cross. The group of people on the right includes a man with a feathered hat, whose elegant dress may be meant to suggest Joseph of Arimathaea, who provided the tomb for the Entombment, the burial of Christ.
This monochrome oil sketch or 'grisaille' was probably made around 1635 for an etching which was not executed. It has an extremely complex make-up. Rembrandt began by making an oil sketch on paper; he then tore out a section and mounted the rest on canvas. He continued the design on the canvas at the lower right. Finally a pupil added canvas strips at the top and bottom.