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6 / Death

A page from the Ars Moriendi
A page from the Ars Moriendi
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Germany
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1466
Material Woodcut
Dimensions H: approx. 11 in. (28.7 cm.)
Location Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Credit Courtesy of the Library of Congress

expert perspective

Larry SilverProfessor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

A page from the Ars Moriendi

» Unknown artist, Germany

expert perspective

Larry Silver Larry Silver Professor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

People had a very different attitude toward death before the modern era. They lived together much more than they do now, they saw death up close and there weren’t hospitals very often for the kind of isolation of people who were dying or sick. Certainly in the late Middle Ages, death was a much more gripping and visible, palpable, almost frightening presence for people. In an era that was full of plagues, that was certainly an omnipresent threat. And looking at an image of a deathbed with various figures around, as in the Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying Well), people had to stop and think about what their salvation meant and what it might mean to die very suddenly. The Art of Dying Well is really a sequence of temptations and resistances as the dying man on his bed works his way through the sins that he’s confronted and has the chance at the very end to repent. So that’s a work that isn’t meant to scare you—it’s meant to make you think, to make you reflect and look backwards on your life.” 

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