Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin
AUTHOR: Askew, Pamela
PUBLISHER: Princeton University Press
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Caravaggio's Roman altarpiece, Death of the Virgin, in the Louvre, is often considered shockingly realistic and radically secular in content. Pamela Askew reveals its imagery to be as rich in metaphor and allusion as it is salient in its dramatic immediacy. The painting, notorious for its rejection by the fathers of the church of the Discalced Carmelites in Rome, S. Maria della Scala, was nevertheless praised by Caravaggio's contemporaries. Askew's analysis of the interdependency of formal and iconographical elements stresses Caravaggio's emphasis upon the body of the Virgin and offers new suggestions of why the image, despite its theological orthodoxy, may not have accorded with the Marian ideals of the reformed order. An earlier dating for the work is also proposed and its historical background enriched by new information on the hitherto obscure patron, Laerzio Cherubini. Caravaggio is shown to allude to Cherubini's active interest in a philanthropic institution for women with which the church of S. Maria della Scala was allied, through his exceptional inclusion of the figure of the Magdalen in a scene of the Dormition. Askew seeks to place the Death of the Virgin within the artistic and literary as well as social, theological, and spiritual contexts that contributed to its pictorial shaping. The Roman congregation of the Discalced Carmelites is investigated as is the tenor of its spirituality, and Caravaggio's formulation of the theme is interpreted in relation to his own pictorial synthesis of time passed and time future in time present.
PUBLICATION DATE: 1/21/1990