The Death of the Virgin was Rembrandt's first large etching since The Angel appearing to the Shepherds (B., Holl. 44; H. 120), and one that presented something of a problem, since he needed two attempts to complete it. He started the subject on a smaller plate, but then abandoned it, re-using the plate for The Three Trees (B. 212). His perseverence was amply rewarded as the result is a wonderful mix of sketch and finely described detail, and whilst the focus of the composition is never in doubt, those who surround the bed are active participants in the unfolding drama rather than mere bystanders or a Greek chorus.
In an important deviation from most of the other treatments of this subject, Rembrandt's Mary is no blissfully smiling, youthful apparition, but clearly a sick old woman. It was probably no coincidence that during these years Saskia spent many of her days in bed, and numerous drawings attest to her husband's constant presence at her bedside.