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The Economy of Salvation: Narrative and Liminality in Rembrandt's Death of the Virgin

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image of Religion and the Arts

This essay examines Rembrandt's 1639 etching, The Death of the Virgin, an image which, despite a comprehensive literature on the artist's graphic work, has received little critical attention beyond formal analyses of the print as evidence of the artist's stylistic transition from an elaborate Baroque sensibility, typical of the 1630s, to a more restrained vision of the 1640s. It considers the special nature of the depicted subject, the transitus of the Virgin from earthly to heavenly life and the promise that miracle holds for the eternal life of all believers. Taking into account official Protestant and Reformed iconoclast proscriptions of the cult of the Virgin, as well as the iconographic features of literary, visual and personal sources, the author re-interprets the subject of the spiritual mystery beyond a dominantly literal and narrative depiction of the moment of death, to an exegesis on the promise of and faith in salvation, specifically through the intercession of the Virgin, she who transcends finite mortality and who holds, according to the faithful, that special 'liminal' place between the divine and the earthly.


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