The Dormition

Constantinople, 10th or 11th century
Musée National de l'Age Medievale, Paris

In the upper half of this plaque the artist collapses time. In the first moment pictured, Christ takes his mother's soul in his arms. In the second, pictured in the upper right, an angel has received the soul from Christ and is now taking it to Heaven.

In the lower half we see fourteen figures of the Apostles: twelve at the edges of the plaque and two in closer proximity to Mary's deathbed. Again, a collapsing of time seems to be at play, with one of the twelve standing behind the bier and another touching the foot of the shroud.

Or possibly the man touching the shroud could be a reference to a later moment in the narrative. In The Book of John Concerning the Falling Asleep of Mary a Jew named Jephonias attacks the bier as the Apostles were taking it to the tomb. He "put his hands upon the couch; and, behold, an angel of the Lord by invisible power, with a sword of fire, cut off his two hands from his shoulders, and made them hang about the couch." Astonished, Jephonias cries out, "Holy Mary, who broughtest forth Christ who is God, have mercy upon me," and then his hand is restored. In the image, the artist has incised a line just above the wrist and made the hand is disproportionately large, as if to draw attention to it.

With his short, square beard the man on the left with the censer is probably St. Peter.

Read more about images of the Dormition.

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