Memento Mori (c. 1520) by Ascribed to Chicart BaillyBode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Not now death, I’m painting
Every society has its own relationship with mortality. Some fear it, some worship it, some embrace it. And some are just memento mori, carpe diem or YOLO. Here we celebrate the stories of those who looked mortality in the eye and were inspired to create something magnificent.
Memento Mori at Bode-Museum
One of the most common ways humans cope with mortality is by personifying it. When you give something a form and shape, when you turn death into Death, it becomes tangible. It becomes something you can look in the eye and bravely defy.
Statue of the goddess Bastet (Late Period, c. 600 BCE) by Artist unknownNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Statue of the goddess Bastet at Neues Museum
If you don’t love cats, you definitely know someone who loves cats: the Internet is awash with felines and they didn’t upload themselves. But even the internet doesn’t love cats as much as the Ancient Egyptians loved cats. They literally worshipped them. And not just for the reasons you might expect.
Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle (1872) by Arnold BöcklinAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle at Alte Nationalgalerie
Most of us don’t think about death very often, and certainly not our own. Death was the subject matter in numerous works of art by Arnold Böcklin’s, this being one of his most personal and poignant.
Ishtar Gate (reconstruction of the outer gate) (6th century BCE) by UnknownPergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
The Ishtar Gate at Pergamonmuseum
No matter how wealthy, powerful or important we are, we all ultimately face the same fate. But some people do everything they can to achieve immortality. And if they can’t literally live forever, they build a legacy they hope might stand the test of time; approaching the mighty walls of ancient Babylon along the Processional Way and heading through the Ishtar Gate, you might have thought Nebuchadnezzar II’s legacy was pretty safe. But if it hadn’t been for luck, a persistent German archaeologist and an incredible reconstruction process, nothing would have been left of this magnificent monument but dust.
Female Dancer (1809/1812) by Antonio CanovaBode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Female Dancer at Bode-Museum
Marble is hard. It is heavy, opaque and solid. And yet, in the hands of Antonio Canova, it can look like the thinnest, shimmering lace. It can capture a strobing snapshot of movement. It can show us a young woman abandoning herself to the feel of music, her body moving in response to something primal and quintessentially human. Antonio Canova’s two great passions were sculpture and dance. Nobody captured movement like him.
Discover more about YOLO:
- Failing Beautifully
- Catch The Light!
- Lust For Life
- The 5 Typical Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness
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