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In her final moments, the Virgin is shown receiving a lighted taper from a figure wearing a chasuble – probably Saint Peter. Mary Magadalen smoothes her pillows, whilst a man, who may be Saint John sleeps in a chair near the fire. The crucifix propped up on a pillow at the end of the bed must have been an extraordinarily harrowing devotional aid at the Virgin’s own hour of death, but would, at the same time, have brought the promise of Salvation.
In earlier versions of this subject, the mourners had always been limited to the apostolic number of twelve. The subject has been developed by Bruegel, and turned into a natural, or domestic event, to which numerous men and women are admitted.
The picture once belonged to the famous geographer, Abraham Ortelius (1527-98). It was owned later by Rubens and is, in all probability, the Bruegel listed in the inventory taken after Rubens's death in 1641.