The female counterpart to an Abbot, Abbesses were nuns in charge of convents. During the middle ages and the renaissance, convents gained a bad reputation as houses of licentious behaviour, due in large part to the fact that many nuns did not willingly choose holy orders, but rather were exiled there for political or dynastic reasons. In Shakespeare, the famous quote - "Get thee to a nunnery!" is actually calling the woman a prostitute, so synonymous had convents become with promiscuous sexual behaviour, at least in the public imagination.
In this vignette, death is dragging the Abbess away by her robe while another nun protests uselessly. The Abbess has in her hands the symbol of her authority as well as a rosary, but neither her power nor her religion will save her. This image complements the illustrations about other religious figures, such as the priest and the nun.
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Holbein - the Dance of Death.