Sunday, May 6, 2007
I discovered the illustrations shown above on BibliOdyssey, a fantastic blog devoted to book art. These amusing, slightly sinister sketches were created by artist (and anatomy professor) Louis Crucius at the end of the 19th century and used in calendars for the Antikamnia Chemical Company. (Whose pain relievers contained at least one highly toxic chemical.) More examples of Crucius's work can be found on the site. (And be sure to check out the remarkable illustrations of the Russian artist Tyukanov, which are also posted there.)
Crucius's inspiration was the Danse Macabre, also known as the Dance of Death. When the Black Death swept through Europe in the 15th century, the Dance of Death became a popular allegory. Paintings of the dance showed skeletons (symbolizing death) waltzing with figures from all walks of life--paupers and popes, kings and fools. The idea was that death eventually comes for everyone, even the rich and beautiful. (Cheerful thought, right?)
Perhaps the best known version of the Danse Macabre is a series of woodcuts created by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1538. Holbein was a man who knew a bit about the subject of death, having painted the portraits of several of Henry VIII's ill-fated wives. You can see his version of the dance here.