As he hangs suspended from two nails on the cross, the weight of the man's figure brings his torso forward. With straightened legs, a protruding belly, and taut arm muscles, every part of his body seems to strain towards the viewer. Even the cross bows forward, accentuating the tension in the position. The man's sorrowful expression suggests that Albrecht Dürer intended this as a drawing of the good thief, who repented his crimes as he hung dying on the cross beside Christ.
Dürer made this drawing in the studio; the forms became better defined as he went over the contours, outlining the body, chest, and abdomen with a stronger stroke. He then modeled the figure in three dimensions, using a combination of thin, parallel lines, cross-hatching, and short, rapid, repeated strokes. He probably drew the cross in last, after the figure was completed. The overall level of finish shows that Dürer considered this a preparatory study, a place to work out a basic pose and proportions before making a woodcut, engraving, or painting.