Death and the maiden

In many dances of Death already figured a representation of Death with a fine lady or with a beautiful virgin. The image of a young woman was also found in the three ages and Death. However in both cases, there was no trace of erotism. This old vision will take a new form at the end of the 15th century and become the theme of Death and the maiden, which will culminate in Germany at the Renaissance.

BALDUNG GRIEN, Hans
Three Ages of Man
1539

In this type of iconography, the young lady was not involved in a dance anymore, but in a sensual intercourse, which will become always more erotic as time went by. Death is usually represented as a skeleton or a decaying corpse. It can be gentle and loving or it can be rude and violent, in both cases the maiden usually does not resist and follow her master to the grave. Stressing the Christian linkage of death with sin, and sin with sex, the motif portrays death as a seducer undoing a young woman in the prime of carnal life.

In the symbolic, there is a confusion between the young and fresh body of the maiden and decaying body of Death. Fear may stimulate eroticism and death takes on unexpected possibilities. Death and the Maiden also echoes the mortality of our affections, that life is short as is the proud beauty of a woman, and encourages us to consider them more carefully.

In the iconography of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, death raped the living: countless scenes or motifs in art and in literature associated death with love, Thanatos with Eros, the agony of death with the orgasmic trance.

The outstanding achievements of Victorian art reflect the fundamental themes of Love and Death. The paintings depict the popular stories that fascinated Victorian audiences, such as Shakespeare’s Juliet, Helen of Troy or the sorceress Circe. They are extravagantly emotional, endowing subjects drawn from the remote past with the passions and emotions of real people in the present: love and death, fear and longing, beauty and desire.

Pass by! O pass me by!
Away, wild mask of death!
I am still young! Oh why
destroy me with your breath?
Give me your hand, you lovely, tender child
I am your friend and bring no harm.
Have courage. See, I am not wild.
Now go to sleep upon my arm.
Schubert’s 1817 suite Der Tod und das M├Ądchen.