Artworks
Death of the Virgin

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Are you a sucker for scandal? You'll get a kick out of artist Caravaggio then, who never failed to shock and appall his 16th and 17th century audience.

So you find yourself all a-tingle when you hear of the mischievous wrongdoings? Us too. That's why we love Death of the Virgin, a painting Caravaggio took to the next level when he bypassed ordinary models and chose a prostitute, who was also his mistress, to sit for the portrait of the "virgin".  Saints alive!!!

No doubt this painting was totally rejected by the church that commissioned it. We do know, however, that the blasphemous masterpiece comes highly recommended by Peter Paul Rubens (he convinced the Duke of Mantua to buy it after it got dissed by the church). And it ended up at Louvre somehow so, not a total waste.

The reasons behind the raised eyebrows go far and beyond choice of model though. It wasn’t just that a courtesan was playing the Virgin Mary. It was also how the whole scene was so real. No frills and no nonsense. The red curtain at the top of the canvas adds an element of stage-like drama to this picture of grief and mourning, sure. But before this everyone was used to seeing Mary marked by some element of divinity like a halo, crown, fabulous outfit or gang of angels.

Caravaggio chose to strip a religious scene down to bare essentials, making it so real and relatable that it seemed almost crude. The mother of Christ is lain down with her swollen legs and bare feet, and her dress unceremoniously unlaced at the bodice. Hollowed out of its holy metaphors, which earlier artists like Robert Campin so devotedly imbued in paintings like The Merode Altarpiece, this work makes the Mother of God seem like just another beezy. How are we supposed to know she’s better than us? Had the painting not been titled Death of the Virgin it would’ve seemed like the death of any old Jill. Or Mary.

 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Death of the Virgin (Caravaggio)

Death of the Virgin (1606) is a painting completed by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio. It is a near contemporary with Caravaggio's Madonna with Saint Anne now at the Musée du Louvre.

History

When he painted The Death of the Virgin (c. 1601-6), Caravaggio had been working in Rome for fifteen years. The painting was commissioned by Laerzio Cherubini, a papal lawyer, for his chapel in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria della Scala in Trastevere, Rome; the painting could not have been finished before 1605-1606. The depiction of the Death of the Virgin caused a contemporary stir, and was rejected as unfit by the parish.

Giulio Mancini thought Caravaggio modelled a prostitute, possibly his mistress, as the Virgin.Giovanni Baglione and Gian Pietro Bellori attributed the rejection to the appearance of the Virgin. The breach of decorum led to a rejection of the painting by the fathers of Santa Maria della Scala and its replacement by a picture by Carlo Saraceni, a close follower of Caravaggio.

Upon the recommendation by Peter Paul Rubens, who praised it as one of Caravaggio's best works, the painting was bought by Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. Giovanni Magni, the duke's ambassador, briefly exhibited the painting in his house on the Via del Corso, between 1 and 7 April 1607. Copying was absolutely forbidden.

The duke's collection was sold to Charles I of England in 1627. After his execution the English Commonwealth put his collection up for sale in 1649, and the painting was bought by Everhard Jabach, who in 1671 sold it to Louis XIV for the French Royal Collection, which after the French Revolution became the property of the state. Today it hangs in the Louvre. Prior to leaving Rome, it was shown at the Academy of Painters for under two weeks. However, by then Caravaggio had fled Rome, never to publicly return. During one of his frequent brawls in Rome, the mercurial and impulsive Caravaggio killed a man, Ranuccio Tomassoni, during a sword fight after a tennis game.

The popular teen CW series Riverdale shows the painting in the background of one scene. It can be found in "Chapter Nineteen: Death Proof".


Check out the full Wikipedia article about Death of the Virgin (Caravaggio).