Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle (1872) by Arnold BöcklinAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Can you hear it? The poignant, melancholy beauty of a lone violin. The gentle tap of bony fingers on polished wood and the whisper in your ear: "I am close."
The painter Arnold Böcklin is certainly listening to something in his haunting, thought provoking "Self-portrait with Fiddling Death“.
He gazes, not at us, but at something far away, listening intently...
...as he pauses mid-brush stroke. The painting is an arresting reminder to us all that life hangs by a thread. Or, in this case, a single string.
For many of us, our own death is an abstract concept, until we have a near-miss with a badly driven bus, a friend or relative dies ...
Böcklin, a Swiss symbolist painter, returned to the subject of death throughout his long career, probably because he knew about the fragility of life better than anyone.
Of the 14 children he had with his Italian wife Angela, eight died in infancy and the family had to flee cholera epidemics twice.
Böcklin’s most famous works are the five versions of "The Isle of the Dead“ that he painted...
...the third of which became the most famous in the 20th century through prints and photographs. Today it is displayed near this self portrait in the Old National Gallery on Berlin's Museum Island.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz