Death of the Virgin

7:00 AM

Caravaggio, Death of the Virgin, 1605
I began my senior year with enthusiasm and joy, although it was often difficult for me to envision the end. I could never materialize how I felt, mostly because I did not want to. If I were to divulge my emotions and allow them to escape from the confines of my body then everything would become all too real. I spent the beginning of the year in a peaceful daze, allowing the moments to pass me by because if I confronted them it would be all too difficult to forget. That was true until I saw Caravaggio’s 1605 Death of the Virgin. 

The people do not have clear faces because, similar to me, grief has robbed them of identity. I had spent the first half of the year focusing on how this was an “end.” Senior year felt like a death because I couldn’t imagine a life without the friends, teachers, and family that surround me everyday. The men and women that surround Mary allow their bodies to portray their emotions with their clenched fists held up to their eyes. Caravaggio chooses not to paint the Virgin in her final moments, or even the moment following her death; however, he paints what comes after both. The moment between grieving and moving on. That is exactly where I was. I had grieved, but I couldn’t bring myself to move on so instead I was simply emotionally paralyzed.
The Virgin has never been depicted in this light before, and people had (and still have) a hard time receiving the image. There are no hints in the painting, besides its title, to let the viewer know this is Mary. Her face is lined with age, and she appears to be an ominous shade of green. The scene has a feeling of haste attached to it, as a blanket is quickly thrown over Mary as arrangements are made for her funeral. However if you are to look beyond the scene, Caravaggio adds an element of drama to the canvas. The red drapery mirrors Mary’s wrinkled dress and symbolizes death and transformation. The dress and the Virgin’s body drained of life reveals the cruel stamp of reality, but the curtain reminds us of an afterlife. While the moment is shocking and painful, there will come a time when the pain will end and the mourners will move on. Mostly because they have to but also because that is simply the way life goes.

After viewing this piece, I took the time to confront my emotions about graduating and facing the “death” of my childhood. I was going to become an adult, and even if I did not want it now, it was best for me. Caravaggio gave me the rare opportunity to spend the rest of the year in a place of peace and understanding. When graduation comes I will be nostalgic, but I will also look to the red curtain and know that my future awaits.

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