Themes in Art

Death in Art
Life's only guarantee

Memento Mori, vanitas, mortality. Death is one of the most pervasive themes in art history. While many artworks celebrate afterlives in heaven or hell, death is most often referenced as a grim reminder of numbered days, and a powerful motivator to live well while you can. Every culture has rituals surrounding death, appearing in artwork as icons and colors. Hourglasses and wilted flowers for the Dutch, the Cuckoo bird in Japan, the Totenkopf in Germany.

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"Know Thyself" Skeleton Mosaic, Ancient Rome

"Know Thyself" Skeleton Mosaic 100CE

A Funeral, Anna Ancher

A Funeral Anna Ancher, 1891

After the Storm, Sarah Bernhardt

After the Storm Sarah Bernhardt, 1876

Ahasuerus at the End of the World, Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl

Ahasuerus at the End of the World Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1888

Akashi Gidayū’s Death Poem, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Akashi Gidayū’s Death Poem Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1890

Camille Monet on her Deathbed, Claude Monet

Camille Monet on her Deathbed Claude Monet, 1879

Cleopatra, Giampietrino

Cleopatra Giampietrino, 1524 – 1526

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners, Alexandre Cabanel

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners Alexandre Cabanel, 1887

Crucifixion and Last Judgement, Jan Van Eyck

Crucifixion and Last Judgement Jan Van Eyck, 1430 – 1440

Death and Life, Gustav Klimt

Death and Life Gustav Klimt, 1910 – 1915

Death and the Maiden, Marianne Stokes

Death and the Maiden Marianne Stokes, 1908

Death of Clytaemnestra, Stanley William Hayter

Death of Clytaemnestra Stanley William Hayter, 1949

Death of Constantine, The Enlightenment

Death of Constantine 1623 – 1625

Death of the Horseman or Brandemart Crying, Émile Bernard

Death of the Horseman or Brandemart Crying Émile Bernard, 1892

Death on the Pale Horse, Benjamin West

Death on the Pale Horse Benjamin West, 1796

Death: “My Irony Surpasses All Others”, Odilon Redon

Death: “My Irony Surpasses All Others” Odilon Redon, 1888

Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt van Rijn

Descent from the Cross Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633

Disk of Mictlantecuhtli, Teotihuacan Culture

Disk of Mictlantecuhtli 1 – 600CE

Dying Gaul, Ancient Rome

Dying Gaul 250BCE

Epidemic, Alfred Kubin

Epidemic Alfred Kubin, 1900 – 1901

Executions on the Third of May, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

Executions on the Third of May Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1814

Funeral and the Crescent, Ibrahim El-Salahi

Funeral and the Crescent Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1963

Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala, Sarah Bernhardt

Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala Sarah Bernhardt, 1889

Ghosts of the Forest, Marsden Hartley

Ghosts of the Forest Marsden Hartley, 1938

Gold Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol

Gold Marilyn Monroe Andy Warhol, 1962

Grave Circle A (Mycenae), Aegean Civilizations

Grave Circle A (Mycenae) 1600 – 1550BCE

Grave Circle B (Mycenae), Aegean Civilizations

Grave Circle B (Mycenae) 1675 – 1550BCE

Grave Mask from Grave Circle A, Aegean Civilizations

Grave Mask from Grave Circle A 1600 – 1500BCE

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

Guernica Pablo Picasso, 1937

Hope 1, Gustav Klimt

Hope 1 Gustav Klimt, 1903

In Memoriam Karl Liebknecht, Käthe Kollwitz

In Memoriam Karl Liebknecht Käthe Kollwitz, 1920

Iris in a Vase, Marie Bracquemond

Iris in a Vase Marie Bracquemond, 1886

Lace Glove, Hippolyte Bayard

Lace Glove Hippolyte Bayard, 1843 – 1846

Lady of Baza, The Iberians

Lady of Baza 350BCE

Laocoön, El Greco

Laocoön El Greco, 1604 – 1614

Laocoön and His Sons, Ancient Greece

Laocoön and His Sons 200BCE

Massacre of the Innocents, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Massacre of the Innocents Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565 – 1567

Mummy with an Inserted Panel Portrait of a Youth, Coptic Art

Mummy with an Inserted Panel Portrait of a Youth 80 – 100CE

The town was on fire, the quarter where the poor Jews lived. They carried the bed and the mattress, the mother and the babe at her feet, to a safe place at the other end of town. But, first of all, I was born dead.

My Life - Marc Chagall Autobiography: Chapter 1 Marc Chagall, 1922

Night, Ferdinand Hodler

Night Ferdinand Hodler, 1890

Ophelia, John Everett Millais

Ophelia John Everett Millais, 1851 – 1852

Ophelia, Sarah Bernhardt

Ophelia Sarah Bernhardt, 1880

Pentre Ifan Dolmen, Neolithic

Pentre Ifan Dolmen 3500BCE

Red Hill and Bones, Georgia O'Keeffe

Red Hill and Bones Georgia O'Keeffe, 1941

Ria Munk on her Deathbed, Gustav Klimt

Ria Munk on her Deathbed Gustav Klimt, 1912

Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, Francisco de Zurbarán

Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb Francisco de Zurbarán, 1630 – 1634

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, The Etruscans

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa 140BCE

Seaside Cemetery, Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl

Seaside Cemetery Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1897

Self-Portrait as Drowned Man, Hippolyte Bayard

Self-Portrait as Drowned Man Hippolyte Bayard, 1840

Self-portrait with fiddling Death, Arnold Böcklin

Self-portrait with fiddling Death Arnold Böcklin, 1872

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