Title:The Death of the VirginArtist:Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn Date:1639Creation Place:Europe, The NetherlandsCredit Line:Gift of the Print and Drawing Council in honor of John W. IttmannAccession Number:P.88.46
This distinctly Roman Catholic subject has less to do with religion than with artistic traditions. Many great artists have depicted the death of Mary, and Rembrandt gave the subject his own interpretation.
Usually the Virgin is shown surrounded by the Apostles, but Rembrandt's gathering includes women, too. Mary is traditionally shown in the bloom of youth, but thinking through the human implications of the story, Rembrandt made her appropriately old and sick. For good measure, he invented a physician to check her pulse.
The joy and freedom of his handling of the etching needle is especially evident in the upper register of the image, where the high-timbered chamber is visited by a host of cloud-borne angels. Rembrandt was willing to let the viewer see the how the image evolved, as evidenced by the arcing traces he left after reconfiguring the risers supporting the bed.