Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Tuesday with Memento Mori
I first encountered the Dance of Death in the form of a beaten-up book checked out from my High School Library. It was a reprint of the Hans Holbein Alphabet of Death from the 16th Century. Working in an antiquated style that was a world away from the restraint and sophistication of his paintings, (see his famous portrait of Henry the 8th here) Holbein brilliantly rendered his take on a common theme: the universality and rough equality of death.
In a brutally democratic way, Death came for Popes and peasants. The mighty and the miserable all must bow to a common end. Death could come for anyone at anytime, extending a bony hand in an invitation for a final pas-de-deux.
This was a popular notion at a time of famine and plague in Europe, and there are many other examples. In Lucerne, Switzerland a series of these paintings adorn the rafters of a centuries-old covered bridge. A traveler could look up as he passed over the bridge to see Death going about his business.
Macabre? Yes. But there is a flip side to the message as well. We are here for a limited time only, look around and appreciate the wonder of it all while you can. A reminder of death, a memento mori, can be a powerful reminder of the value of life, too.
As Nouveau-Feudalism struggles to make a comeback in the 21st Century with its radical separation of the winners and losers, emphasis on Crusade and Jihad, and preference for faith over thought, it seems like a good time to look at this theme again. This is the first of a series. Death extends a bony hand...