This exceptional etching is a later
of Manet's renowned painting (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York), that, in spite of Charles Baudelaire's enthusiasm, provoked quite a scandal at the Salon de 1864.
According to the inscription on the stone in the painting ("évang[ile] sel[on] St Jean chap. XX v. XII"), this picture purports to represent a scene from the Gospel of Saint John 20:12, wherein Mary Magdalene peers into the empty tomb:
And seeth two angels in white
sitting, the one at the head,
and the other at the feet, where
the body of Jesus had lain.
It is unclear why Manet undertook this etching, although there is a watercolor drawing in the Louvre that was clearly made in preparation of the print, as they are nearly identical in size, although reversed (see right).
Furthermore, this etching is quite rare, as it was never published, either in Manet's lifetime or posthumously. Jay Fisher states "the final state is known in no more than nine or ten impressions", all of which were probably printed by Henri Guérard, who was a close friend of Edouard Manet's. He printed a number of Manet's etchings, and although he returned many of the plates to the artist, he kept this plate in his possession.
* There is a splendid proof
impression (on ivory laid paper) in the Art Institute of Chicago, which also holds the plate