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Mass for the Dead

Willem Vrelantearly 1460s

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The black-robed figures that surround the draped coffin in this miniature are probably professional mourners, hired for the funeral. The crippled beggar on crutches approaching on the right was probably also hired for the occasion. The poor were considered especially good intercessors on behalf of the souls of the dead, so it became common during the later Middle Ages to arrange for the distribution of food and alms to the poor on the day of a funeral. On the left, four monks stand before an open choir book wearing elaborate copes, while a priest performs the Mass for the dead at the altar. The owner of this prayer book was meant to reflect on this image and the accompanying Office of the Dead on a daily basis as a reminder of humanity's mortality and the need for penitence and charity to achieve salvation.

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