This work depicting the biblical scene of The Death of the Virgin was painted by the artist Hugo van der Goes, one of the foremost masters of Flemish painting from the mid-15th century, with works as splendid as the Portinari Triptych.
The Death of the Virgin by Hugo van der Goes
And furthermore,Van der Goes, he is one of the few characters from that time for whom we have some information about his personal life. For example, it is known that he spent the last years of his life in voluntary retirement in a monastery, where above all he suffered gripped by a feeling of guilt for what he had done in his life, alternating this phase with attacks of deep melancholy.
That tells us about a certain tormented and profound personality, as well as a very religious character, which is also clearly visible in their pictorial production, which has elements that differentiate them from other flamenco artistscontemporaries like Jan van Eyck.
While Van Eyck painted works such as the famous Arnolfini Marriage in which an atmosphere of placidity is breathed, in the case of Van der Goes with works such as The Death of the Virgin there is a little more sadness, and not only because of the theme chosen, but also because of the way of doing it.
For example, it is enough to carefully observe the reaction that each one of the twelve Apostles has beforethe death of the mother of God. A whole rosary of expressions ranging from a serene and somewhat reflective attitude, to gestures that betray passionate condolence and even some that seem completely absent.
On the other hand it is also extremely interesting to look at the composition of the scene. A more than valuable attempt to clearly distribute all the characters, without leaving any part of the table empty. As an example, the two apostles in the foreground and the apparition seen above Mary's bed attract attention. A composition in which the movements and postures of the characters can even seem somewhat distorted and forced, but which at the same time helps to express the agitation of the moment, which contrasts clearly with the serenity of the Virgin's body., which one could think that at that very moment she is joyful at the contemplation of how her son is waiting for her in heaven.
In short, this painting by Hugo van der Goes that is shown today in Belgium, at the Museum of Bruges, is a magnificent example of how the 15th-century Flemish painting some of the characteristics of Gothic art were being maintained, while elements of Renaissance painting were included, which although generated in Italy, in southern Europe, was also reaching the northern lands of the continent.