The Death of the Virgin

Rembrandt Van Rijn
The Death of the Virgin

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn etching.


Original etching with drypoint printed in black ink on laid paper bearing the “Moyen Normandie I Germain 1764” watermark (Ash/Fletcher 38.C.a).

Signed and dated in the plate lower left Rembrandt f.1639.

A strong, clear 18th century impression of Bartsch’s third and final state, Usticke and New Hollstein’s fourth state of five, printed after the strengthening of most of the shadows with the mezzotint rocker.

Catalog: Bartsch 99 iii/iii, Hind 161, Biorklund-Barnard 39-A, Usticke 99 iv/v; New Hollstein 173 iv/v.

The death of the Virgin is not mentioned in the New Testament. It is first described in an apocryphal book, and was later elaborated on in such collections of religious stories as the Golden Legend. It seems unlikely, however, that Rembrandt made use of any of the literary versions of the story for this etching, since he includes the apostles, who are not present in the written form of the legend.

Rembrandt depicts the moment of the Virgin’s death in a large, dramatic, Baroque composition. His starting point was a stained-glass window of the same subject by Dirck Crabeth in the Oude Kerke in Amsterdam (the site of Rembrandt’s marriage to Saskia). Several details are borrowed from two woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer: “The Deathbed of the Virgin” (Bartsch 93), which supplied Rembrandt with the young man with the staff and other figures on the left side of the composition, and “The Birth of the Virgin” (B. 80). The doctor taking the Virgin’s pulse is an original contribution by Rembrandt, which he derived from the iconography of secular deathbed scenes. The motif of a woman lying in bed may be connected with the studies Rembrandt made in these years of his wife Saskia. The mise-en-scène is also related to Rembrandt’s drawing of the death of Jacob.

“The Death of the Virgin” is one of Rembrandt’s largest etchings, and it displays the great technical advances he had made during the preceding period. The etching is drawn with great freedom, and has a new richness of nuance, thanks to the extensive use, for the first time, of drypoint.