The Death of the Virgin, 1639Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669)
Rembrandt was a highly experimental printmaker known for his innovative techniques. Taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the soft copper plate, Rembrandt often revised and improved his images, burnishing out entire figures and replacing them with new ones, or adding new parts to the composition as drypoint lines wore down. He also varied his images by inking the plate in specific ways. In this print, which shows the Apostles and other mourners at the bedside of Christ’s mother, Rembrandt adds drama to the composition through the variety of expressions and the inclusion of lively figures. These include a priest in the foreground looking up from his reading and a man peeking from behind the curtain at right, both of which draw the eye into the composition. The putti and clouds above the bed introduce the supernatural realm.
This particular impression of the print belonged to the English portrait painter and collector Thomas Lawrence. Made before the burr — which makes the velvety drypoint lines — wore out, it preserves a rich black in shaded areas. The artist himself inked the plate to achieve the silvery quality that is especially evident in the upper register.