The Death of the Virgin
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669)
Date1639; 17th-18th century impression
MediumEtching and drypoint
DimensionsSheet : 16 x 12 3/8 in. (40.64 x 31.43 cm)
Credit LineGift of Dr. J.William Thomas & Dr. Carolyn P. Thomas
LabelThe story of the Virgin Mary’s death is not recorded in the Bible or other early Christian texts, but it does appear in several later apocryphal sources, including The Golden Legend, a 13th century collection of stories about the lives of Christian saints and holy figures. Although Rembrandt was almost certainly familiar with The Golden Legend, the specific imagery of this print seems to have been inspired more directly by several woodcuts created by the German artist Albrecht Durer for his 1511 series The Life of the Virgin. Rembrandt was an avid collector of prints by other artists and is known to have acquired the Durer prints at an estate auction in 1638. The figures surrounding Mary in Rembrandt’s etching are dressed in vaguely Middle Eastern-looking costumes, but the furnishings in her room are those of 17th century Europe. Another delightful anachronism is the doctor at Mary’s bedside who leans over her body as he takes her pulse. As in all his prints, Rembrandt emphasizes the play of light across the scene and conveys a sense of emotion and drama through his expressively drawn lines, especially in the area above Mary’s bed where the angels are descending.