Monday, March 1, 2021

Dance of Death Sketchbook


The Abbot, from The Dance of Death ca. 1526, published 1538. Hans Holbein.

Travelling by train to and from work everyday I often use this half hour as an opportunity to read or sketch. This series of sketches emerged from that daily journey. Inspired by Hans Holbein’s Dance of Death engravings, in which the playful personification of death in the form of a skeleton surprises his unsuspecting victims, who come from every age and station, with his mischievous sudden and unexpected appearance in the midst of life; my ambiguous imaginative figure has a somewhat skeletal head and by contrast a rather lusty body as he cavorts along from page to page in an irreverent and provocative manner. Giving a familiar human form to something mysterious and unknowable, personifying a process or abstraction we find difficult to understand, and making fun of what we fear is a psychological technique for confronting, coming to terms with, and taming our anxieties and insecurities about life’s ultimate uncertainty and the inevitability of it's final end.  This is no less true now than it was in the 16th century for John Donne or Hans Holbein.  

The Holy Sonnets: Death be not proud. 
John Donne 1572-1631

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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