Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Life of the Virgin Mary

Capella Maggiore, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Reading bottom to top we have:

  1. Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple and Birth of the Virgin
  2. Presentation of Mary in the Temple and Betrothal of the Virgin Mary
  3. Adoration of the Magi and Slaughter of the Innocents
  4. The Death and Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The artist deploys fairly standard Assumption iconography in the upper section: Mary stands on a cloud, backed by a modified mandorla and lifted by angels toward her Son, who welcomes her with extended arms. But he departs from the traditional by contrasting this image of a young and vital Mary with the wrinkles and post-mortem lividity of the corpse on the bier. Thus the image represents what the church's label calls it, the "Death and Assumption of the Virgin," with no thought of a separate dormition. This take on the image is shared by Salvador González (240), but as I see it, Mary's body is clearly present on the bier, as it was three days before her assumption into Heaven. What rises into the arms of Christ thus should be seen as her soul, pictured in shades of gray to distinguish it from the body below.

Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.