Death and the Maiden

Tonight is a night off from work we have 24 cans of carlsberg at home Im going to give the whole evening just painting nothing to do with the studio. A really hard thing to do for me sometimes I can work 18 hour hour days but i think you have to when you start a business…  not as glamorous as it looks!! So my subject for my painting tonight is Death and the Maiden. Derived from the Danse Macabre, an artistic genre of Late Medieval allegory on the universality of death, the Death and the Maiden motif has been inspiration for works of Art from painting and sculpture to plays and musical compositions.

  An amazing composition by Schubert- Death and the Maiden -this will be the soundtrack for later on! :)

Though this concept has been utilised many times over the centuries, little has been said concerning its allegorical meaning or its psychological impact.   Death and the Maiden is a common motif in Renaissance art, especially in painting, and music. It was developed from the Dance of Death. The new element was an erotic subtext. A prominent representative is Hans Baldung Grien.

Hans Baldung Grien, a contemporary of Holbein, seems to specifically specialize in encounters between sumptuous curvaceous females and rotten Death. A prime example of his work is aptly named Death and the Maiden (1517)

“A cadaverous death, still wrapped in his burial cloth, drags a young woman by the hair to her grave. Her voluptuous body is completely naked except for a light gossamer cloth that flows from her shoulder and wraps around her hips. Her face is plaintive, tears flow from her eyes, and her hands are clasped as she begs death to let her go. Death answers her by gesturing to the grave with his right hand. She does not struggle, for it is the inevitable end for all to succumb to the will of death.”

Hans Baldung grows bolder as a more erotic tone emerges in “The Three Ages and Death.” In it, cadaverous Death leads a naked old woman away by the arm. In his hand he holds the hourglass, nearly devoid of sand. The old woman looks back to a young maiden as she and Death pass. The elder reaches out and places one hand upon the younger woman’s shoulder while her other hand pulls away a drapery covering the maiden’s body. The maiden is a contrast to the old woman: her breasts are strong, her hips broad, her body taunt. At the maiden’s feet lies what she, herself, will bring forth: an infant girl. These are the three ages: the child will grow up to become the maiden and bear children, but will age into the old woman who will be taken by death. The natural cycle will continue unabated.


Finding a niche in this genre, Baldung continued with a sensuous encounter between beautiful young woman and cadaverous Death. In Die Eitelkeit Death stands with a young woman who gazes at her own reflection in a mirror and fixes her hair. She is, again, naked, with a gossamer cloth covering her hips. This time, however, the Death holds the end of the garment, as if preparing to remove it. At her feet a child gazes through the other end of the cloth, while an old woman, partially hidden by the foliage, looks at the hourglass in Death’s hand. The concept of the three ages of women is again reiterated.

There is a  memento mori symbolism of Corporeal Beauty (maiden) and its eventual demise (death), and the accompanying thoughts of how Beauty fades with time and eventually slips away, though not merely Beauty, but Youth as well. The Maiden represents Innocence, which may be ‘snatched by Death’ before maturity brings the innocent’s full potential to being. These images illustrate differing phrases with which we speak of Death, such as ‘embracing Death’, ‘called by Death’ or ‘Death follows behind our every step’. Death reminds us of Time, and how little of it we truly possess in comparison with the infinite scope of Time itself, how every second, every breath, every single step is precious, sacred and fleeting. …Tempus Fugit We fear Death. We flee Death.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s