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Legends of the Madonna - The Death and Assumption of the Virgin

( Originally Published 1895 )



Lat. Dormitio, Pausatio, Transitus, Assumptio, B. Virginis. Ital. Il Transito di Maria. Il Sonno della Beata Wirgine. L' Assunzione. Fr. La Mort de la Vierge. L'Assomption. Ger. Das Absterben der Maria. Maria Himmelfahrt. (August 13, 15.)

We approach the closing scenes.

Of all the representations consecrated to the glory of the Virgin, none have been more popular, more multiplied through every form of Art, and more admirably treated, than her death and apotheosis. The latter in particular, under the title of the " Assumption," became the visible expression of a dogma of faith then universally received namely, the exaltation and deification of the Virgin in the body as well as in the spirit. As such it meets us at every turn in the edifices dedicated to her ; in painting over the altar, in sculpture over the portal, or gleaming upon us in light from the shining many-colored windows. Sometimes the two subjects are combined, and the death-scene (Il Transito di Maria) figured below, is, in fact, only the transition to the blessedness and exaltation figured above. But whether separate or combined, the two scenes, in themselves most beautiful and touching the extremes of the mournful and the majestic the dramatic and the ideal offered to the medieval artists such a breadth of space for the exhibition of feeling and fancy as no other subject afforded. Consequently, among the examples handed down to us, are to be found some of the most curious and important relics of the early schools, while others rank among the grandest productions of the best ages of art.

For the proper understanding of these, it is necessary to give the old apocryphal legend at some length ; for, although the very curious and extravagant details of this legend were not authorized by the Church as matters of fact or faith, it is clear that the artists were permitted thence to derive their materials and their imagery. In what manner they availed themselves of this permission, and how far the wildly poetical circumstances with which the old tradition was gradually invested were allowed to enter into the forms of Art, we shall afterwards consider.



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