The scene depicts Jesus bidding his mother farewell before his last journey to Jerusalem. Durer's work perfectly illustrates the contrasting emotions between mother and son. To the left of the picture, Mary is on her knees with the crumpled skirt of her dress in disorderly array as if to highlight her inner turmoil over the dangers her son is to face in the city. To emphasise her distress, Durer has placed two maidservants helping to support her. Standing before her is a calm, serene Jesus, his upright figure displaying all the composure of a man who has accepted and understood his destiny. Yet he still holds his hand outstretched in compassion towards his mother.
Durer is believed to have carved the woodcut during 1504 using a burin, a steel engraving tool that was notoriously difficult to handle. Like all of Durer's work, the detail of the woodcut is remarkably fine. The grain in the timbers of Mary's home and the slender twigs of the tree near Jesus can be clearly seen. In the distance perched on a hill is Christ's destination, the walled city of Jerusalem. In keeping with many artistic works of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it displays the architecture of the artist's own surroundings and features the Germanic rooftops of Nuremberg.
Durer created many similar woodcuts around the same time such as Saint Eustace (1510) and the Last Supper (1510). He was a prolific artist, producing countless detailed studies in many other mediums such as a watercolour entitled The Hare (1502) and a pen and ink drawing called Praying Hands (1508). Christ Taking Leave of his Mother measures a standard 29.8 cm by 21 cm and along with many similar religious prints produced by Durer, it was highly successful during his lifetime. Durer's woodcut inspired many artists to replicate the scene including Correggio, Wolf Huber and Albrecht Altdorfer. Original prints of the woodcut are now in several locations including The London National Gallery of Art, Le Petit Palais and The Honolulu Museum of Art.