Deathbed Scene

Master of James IV of Scotlandabout 1510 - 1520

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

This miniature illustrates the Office for the Dead, one of the essential texts of a book of hours. Said over the body of the deceased the night before a burial, the office was also read daily as a reminder of one's mortality, reflecting the need for constant penitence. In a tour-de-force display of illusionism, the artist used the distinct compartments of frame and border to show contiguous indoor and outdoor scenes. In the lower border Death, represented as a gruesome corpse, hunts a man in a park-like landscape. Above, the victim lies on his deathbed while clerics read the Office for the Dead. The artist linked the two scenes by suggesting that the interior we see in the miniature is an enlarged, cut-away view of the house depicted in the border. In addition, an elusive figure with a red hat on the far left unites the hunting scene with the deathbed scene. This man appears twice, first leaving the hunt, walking away from the viewer down a hillside, and then passing into the house from its entryway on the left.

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