Statue representing Death and the Canon, Germany, 1750-1870

Made:
1750-1870 in Germany
maker:
Unknown

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Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Painted plaster statue depicting Death as a cadaverous old man grasping a choir-master (Canon) by one hand, printed inscription in German, German, probably 1750-1870

Death is depicted as a cadaverous figure in this moulded plaster statue. It grasps a reluctant choirmaster by one hand. In the printed German inscription beneath, Death says to the choirmaster, who is referred to as a canon:

Mr. Canon, have you lead the singing;

many sweet songs in your choir,

then notice the sound of the fife.

It announces to you the case of death

The Canon replies;

I sang as a free canon

many voices and melodies.

Death's fife sounds different;

It has terrified me so much

The skeletal figure luring mortals, often into the so-called ‘dance of death’ was common imagery throughout medieval Europe. It has its origins in the Black Death and other plague outbreaks of the 1400s and was often revitalised by the return of plague and other infectious disease. The statue is also acts as a ‘memento mori’, literally a reminder of the shortness of life and the inevitability of death. The use of the dance of death and the skeleton to represent mortality was later replaced by the simpler image of the skull.

Details

Category:
Classical & Medieval Medicine
Object Number:
A654861
type:
statue
taxonomy:
  • visual and verbal communication
  • sculpture