The Death of the Virgin (The Dormition)

Artist: Workshop of Tilman Heysacker (German, active Cologne 1487–died 1515)

Date: late 15th century

Geography: Made in Cologne, Germany

Culture: German

Medium: Oak

Dimensions: 63 x 73 3/4 x 17 1/4 in. (160 x 187.3 x 43.8 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Wood

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1973

Accession Number: 1973.348


This shrine was originally painted and had two wings decorated in low relief with scenes of the Birth of the Virgin and the Adoration of the Magi (both now in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, Netherlands). The central image, seen here, represents the Death (Dormition) of the Virgin, which is set in a domestic interior. Saint Peter stands at the back holding a book as he officiates at the sacrament of extreme unction. He is accompanied by ten other apostles. Through a doorway at far right we glimpse a depiction of a legend, recorded in the thirteenth century, in which Saint Thomas does not reach the Virgin before her death and is only convinced of her Assumption after her belt is dropped into his hands by an angel. Many of the other iconographic and stylistic elements of the shrine are derived from Netherlandish painting. This affinity is not surprising given that Master Tilman, the carver whose workshop made this piece, was active in the late fifteenth century in Cologne, a city that enjoyed close ties with the Lowlands.