Death and the Maiden

Hans Baldburg Grien: Death and the Maiden, 1518 – 1520

31/5/12 – Death and the Maiden in Renaissance Art

A couple of days ago, I posted a couple of images from artist’s Laurie Lipton and Edward Wilcox who used Death and the Maiden as the title for their artwork. I received feedback for my blog yesterday after another presentation and someone had mentioned that the Death and the Maiden originates from Renaissance art.

I decided to undertake further research into this particular subject and Rudolph Binion argues that artist Hans Baldburg painted Death and the Maiden during the early 1500’s, which also originates from the ‘Dance of Death’.

According to Binion, the Renaissance Reformation introduced the Death and the Maiden to the public sphere. These particular paintings featured death holding or touching a woman in a suggestive and sexual manner.

In comparison Enrico De Pascale  claims that “The origin of the theme lies in Greek Mythology, in the abduction of Persephone by Hades, king of the Underworld who epitomised the eternal conflict between Eros and Thantos, between love (life) and death” (E.D. Pascale, 2007 p.237)

Pascale also recites an ancient myth in relation to Hedes and the Underworld, who attempted to kidnap a young girl for her hand in marriage. Pascale also refers to other European mythologies that associated life and death with the four different seasons of the year, which were introduced through the Death of the Maiden.

Hans Baldburg Grien: Death and the Maiden 1517

Pascale explains that “The Gracco – Roman Myth, a metaphor for the alternating seasons of death (fall and winter) and of life (spring and summer), was revived in the Middle ages in the iconography of the Death of the Maiden” (E.D.Pascale, 2007 p.239)

Parhaps the juxtaposition between sex and death becomes a reminder of mortality. One could argue that the contemporary culture continually reproduce images or representations depicting sex and death, which may question whether society have been interested in these two particular subjects since the Renaissance period. Will society always have an interest in sex and death? Is the Death and the Maiden or the Dance of Death revived through the contemporary culture?

One could also argue that the Death and the Maiden has influenced contemporary horror films, which usually depict women being terrorised by grotesque characters who impose death or violence.

Danny Draven also highlights an interview with Stuart Gordon who believes that ‘sex and death’ compliment one another. Stuart also emphasises the villain holding or carrying the woman although her wellbeing remains ambiguous.

Binion argues that the Death and the Maiden features a close connection with the Protestant Reformation. Kim . W. Woods argues that the Protestant Reformation emerged within the 1500’s, which abandoned Catholic rituals and believes. This particular movement was supported by Martin Luther King, who questioned  practises from the Catholic Church who forgave certain sins or transgressions.

Pascale, Enrico De. Death and Resurrection in Art.  Italy: Mondadori Electra Publishing, 2007. p.239

Binion, Rudolph. Love Beyond Death: The Anatomy of a Myth in the Arts.  New York University: New York, 1993. p.73

Kim Woods, Carol M. Richardson, Angeliki Lymberopoulou. Viewing Renaissance Art, Volume 3.  London: Yale University Press, 2007. p.5-75

Draven, Danny. The Filmmaker’s Book of the Dead: How to Make Your Own Heart-Racing Horror Movie.  Oxford: Elesevier Inc, 2010. p.118

Image Citations:

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