death

Tuberculosis, syphilis, breast cancer, and diphtheria from Richard Tennant Cooper’s series of symbolic paintings depicting death and disease, 1920s. A official war artist, Cooper painted these after returning from World War I before moving to commercial work.

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Emblems from a German Alchemical Manuscript, Fidelis Werner, 1794. Source: University of Freiburg

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Emblems from Sammlung Alchymistischer Schriften (Collection of Alchemical Writings), 18th Century. The different colors and symbolic images represent stages of the alchemical process, and the composition acts as a guide for the process as a whole. Source: John Rylands Library

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In Welsh culture, professional sin-eaters attended funerals to ritualistically eat a meal over the corpse to absorb the deceased’s sins. Every sin stayed with them until their own death, and they were often social outcasts because of the spiritual uncleanliness they accumulated. One has to wonder if sin-eaters would eat the sins of other sin-eaters, passing the spiritual debt down for generations. Image: Two Old Ones Eating Soup, Francisco Goya, 1819

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The Hellmouth is an entrance to hell that manifests as the open jaws of an infernal beast. Depictions of Hellmouths were common during the Middle Ages and Renaissance in manuscripts, and even as dramatic mechanical set pieces in theatrical productions.

Image sources:

  • Detail of The Mouth of Hell, from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 1440
  • Vision de l’Enfer (Vision of Hell), from Les Visions du chevalier Tondal, 1475
  • Ludolf of Saxony, Inferno, from Speculum Humanae Salvationis, 1455
  • Lambert of Saint-Omer, Liber Floridu, 1250 – 1275
  • Detail of Jugement Dernier – Damnés (Last Judgement – The Damned Souls), 1492

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In Chinese mythology, Ox-Head and Horse-Face are guardians of the Underworld, and act as the equivalent to the Angel of Death. They capture and escort human souls to be judged in the courts of Hell, and are messengers of the king of Hell, Yanluo Wang. Images by Jnzl on Flickr

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The sarcophagus of Leopold I (1640 – 1705), Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, found in the Kapuzinergruft Crypt in Vienna, Austria. Images by Jebulon and Dennis Jarvis from Wikimedia Commons.

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The Dance of Death or (Danse Macabre) is an allegory used in art and literature, popular in the Late Middle Ages, that uses the personification of death to remind us that death unites us all, regardless of one’s station in life. Sources: The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut and “The dance of death in painting and in print” (1887) by T. Tindall Wildridge

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