Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Danse Macabre" by Michael Wolmegut

Today I acknowledge the Día de los Muertos (November 2nd) with a few words on Danse Macabre (Dance of the Dead) by the German Medieval artist Michael Wolmegut.

As soon as I saw this print it reminded me of the Mexican Day of the Dead where deceased loved-ones are remembered and celebrated, often with colorful folk art, candy, and revelry. The holiday is timed with the Catholic holiday All Soul's Day, although much in the way it is observed can be traced to a pagan Aztec holiday that goes back thousands of years.

Wolmegut's print was not inspired by death in the general sense, but rather the Black Death that terrorized Europe for most of the 14th century. The fear, grief, and outright madness that afflicted plagued communities is unimaginable. It is estimated that as much as 60% of the European population was killed off. In the face of so much sudden, mysterious, and unstoppable death, it is no wonder that artists like Wolmegut created images making light of death.

The connection between the Mexican holiday and Wolmegut's print is obvious; in this picture skeletons play instruments and dance with seeming joy. It can be interpreted in a cynical manner, the ultimate triumph of death over life. But it also brings some levity to the often depressing but inescapable truth that we all die. Laden with that awareness, hopefully we can make the most of our brief lives, and live them as colorfully as the Mexican people celebrate the lives of their dead.

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