Paintings | 16th Century | Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio (Circle) | The Death of the Virgin (after Caravaggio) | Artwork profile

33,5 x 20,5 cm
Oil on paper laid on canvas


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The Death of the Virgin (after Caravaggio)

Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio (Circle)

The subject
The work in question is a copy of the famous painting by Caravaggio entitled “The Death of the Virgin”, completed in 1604 and today preserved at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Merisi was commissioned this work as a decoration for the private chapel of the Lelmi family in the Church of Saint Mary della Scala in Rome, but the completed work was rejected due to an iconographic approach that was considered to be too far removed from what was acceptable in churches at the time. In particular, the image of the dead Virgin was considered scandalous as she was sprawled in an unholy manner on the bed, dressed in a bright red dress (and not the canonical blue) with her feet bare to the ankles. Many even believe that Caravaggio used the body of a prostitute drowned in the Tiber as a model (copying her facial details and swollen abdomen). In addition, the poverty of the setting, the solemn and worried faces of the apostles gathered around the dead body, and the almost theatrical dramatic force of the red drape that overarches the scene, greatly influenced his customer’s harsh and negative reaction, even if these were all stylistic principles that reflected the ideology of pauperism distinctive to the Lombard painter.


The painting
After being rejected by the original customer, this large canvas became part of the Duke of Mantua’s collection and it was then that Rubens intervened, producing the fascinating theory that attributes the small painting presented here to the Flemish master. It is possible that Rubens, who kept Caravaggio’s painting and tried to sell it after the latter fled from Rome, made this tiny reproduction as a ‘promotional’ piece. According to Sergio Guarino, a smaller copy of Caravaggio’s canvas, painted by Simon Vouet and still preserved at the Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome, served as a preparatory sketch.