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Annotated works


The Dormition of the Virgin


106.5 x 100 x 4 cm

c. 1500

Romanesque and Gothic (12th Century - 15th Century)

N.° inv. 96/6

Acquired in 1996

ANONYMOUS, GERMAN (East Bavaria?) on Online collection

Although no mention is made of the death of the Virgin Mary in the Bible, the theme was very popular in 15th-century German art. This is shown by importance of the subject in Marian cycles, as well as by the Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, which would explain Her corporeal assumption to heaven. Most depictions of the scene evoke a prosperous domestic environment characteristic of the period in which the work was produced. According to the legend, the apostles were summoned and miraculously arrived from the distant lands where they were preaching to witness the event; they appear praying, reading and performing the various tasks involved in taking care of the dying. Among those present we recognise St John and St Peter, and possibly also St Luke. The Evangelist and physician completes the group of twelve apostles in other works of the same period.

The relief is probably an inner panel of a door of a large altarpiece, and might have been the final episode in a cycle of four reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin. The altarpiece box was presumably decorated with figures of saints or a scene such as the Coronation of the Virgin. The relief was probably mounted on a painted panel that has not been identified, as neither have been the other parts of the altarpiece. The way the surface has been treated and other details make it clear that the work was polychrome, as were most German sculptures of that period. We may also imagine that behind the openwork in the carved stained-glass windows that appear in the background was a gilt or painted surface. Until Luther’s Reformation, altarpiece doors in Germany were only opened on the great festivities of the ecclesiastical year, when the abundant gold of their interior decoration shone brightly. This high quality relief was probably carved in Eastern Bavaria, in an area between the cities of Landshut, Passau and Salzburg.  [M.W.]

Selected bibliography:

Matthias Weniger. “Ama Birjinaren iragaitza eta Santa Ana, Ama Birjina eta Haurra : Alemaniako bi lan gotiko berantiar, Bilboko Arte Eder Museoan = La Dormición de la Virgen y Santa Ana, la Virgen y el Niño : dos obras tardogóticas alemanas en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = The Dormition of the Virgin and Saint Anne, the Virgin and Child : Two Late Gothic artworks from Germany at the Bilbao Fire Arts Museum” en B'08 : Buletina = Boletín = Bulletin, n.º 4. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2009, pp. 15-65.

Matthias Weniger. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 22, n.º 11, ad vocem.

Annotated works