A common theme that interconnects multiple readings, and perhaps becomes more apparent in Defoe’s work and matures in Pushkin’s “A Feast During the Plague” is the personification of death. We are introduced to different descriptions of mortality and the plague and more importantly, further understand characters, figures and viewpoints through how ‘it’ is described.
To bring you back to the feast table, as Louisa revives (line 112), she states:
I dreamed I saw
A hideous demon, black all over, with white eyes…
He called me to his wagon. Lying in it
Were the dead-and they were muttering
In some hideous, unknown language.
The details that Louisa highlights raise an interesting question about how we choose to visualize death and how that may vary between different cultures, religions and time periods. Particularly in art history, death plays a key thematic role and the Art History Project’s Curated portfolio takes you through different cultures and pieces of artwork guiding you through how the depictions and the perceptions have or haven’t changed.
Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” is perhaps one of my personal favorites, along with Hugo Simberg’s “Death Listens”. The contrast between life and death is more recognized in Klimt’s, but what surprises me about Simberg’s depiction is how patient and almost respectful death looks as he is listening to the boy playing the violin. Additionally, straying slightly away from art history and towards modern cinematography, one of my favorite scenes from the Harry Potter films captures death’s persona through an eerily interesting tale (spoiler alert).
It seems most curious then, that such a rich and vibrant track record of work has led us to the modern COVID era, where the killer is now the image of a spiked virus that has become ubiquitous all around the world.