Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ars Moriendi

"All men think all men mortal, but themselves"
Edward Young

'Ars Moriendi' ('The Art of Dying') refers to two related texts (long and short versions) which emerged in Europe in the early and mid-15th century respectively.
"The first is a longer treatise of six chapters that prescribes rites and prayers to be used at the time of death. The second is a brief, illustrated book that shows the dying person's struggle with temptations before attaining a good death."
The book containing 11 illustrations depicts scenes where lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride, and avarice tempt a dying person. Thus we have the demonic and angelic figures at the bedside above representing the temptations and corresponding redemptions through which the soon to depart must negotiate to obtain salvation. The last image shows the soul as a(n) naked child  homunculus being delivered to an angel at the end of a 'good death'.

With the devastation of the black plague across Europe and the hundred years war between France and England, an early death was a distinct possibility if you were living in the 15th century. While the 'danse macabre' genre was more of an artistic response to the possibility of an early demise, 'Ars Moriendi' formalized emerging religious doctrines associated with the practices related to death, dying and eternity. But it also underlined the need for a person to be ready to die.

Originally published in latin, 'Ars Moriendi' was widely translated and appeared in various forms across Europe. I snagged the above images weeks ago from a 400+ page french version which I presume is actually the longer book combined with more than the original 11 woodcut illustrations. A couple of the above images are definitely 'extras'.


Akaky said...

So I am not going to live forever? That is disconcerting, to say the least.

peacay said...

I guess your comment might.

peacay said...

The Bavarian State Library in Munich have just uploaded another version -

'Ars moriendi, ex variis sententiis collecta cum figuris ad resistendum in mortis agone dyabolice suggestioni valens cuilibet Christifideli utilis ac multum necessaria', Landishutum 1514.

Less sophisticated woodcuts from the few that I saw, surrounded by a decorative border.

Unknown said...

Note that the soul is not in the form of a child, but rather of a homunculus, which is the standard iconography of the departing soul in medieval art.

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