One of the earliest versions of the Ars moriendi was illustrated.
The art of human finitude provokes anticipation and preparation for an inevitable end.
The goal was to design a modern image that could develop the themes of each chapter.Page 219
Dr. Dugdale is attempting, through the ink renderings of Michael W. Dugger, to produce an up-to-date version of the illustrated Ars moriendi from the 1400s. How successful is she? Is it too soon for us to tell? What do you think about her statements regarding the general value of art in preparing for death? What do you think about this art in particular?
This is . . . the image that most closely approximates the original ars moriendi woodcuts reproduced in Chapter Two.Page 220
Here is one of those woodcut reproductions from Chapter Two:
The contrast between these two images that is most obvious to me is the presence of other people around the dying man’s bed. This seems to indicate the importance of community, which will be the subject of Chapter Three. But the people pictured in the medieval woodcut are not family, friends or health aids. There is Jesus and Mary and the angels (and the demons they have overcome). Surely the meaning is partly symbolic: the presence of Our Lord and Our Lady and the angels and demons symbolize this man’s internal struggle between exercising the virtue of patience and succumbing to the vice of impatience. But I think Jesus, Mary, the angels, and the demons are not just symbols. I think they also represent invisible realities. I think we are to understand that the dying man pictured here, like the dying man in the modern ink rendering, is alone so far as sensory perception could detect. The older image depicts supernatural beings around the death bed so the dying person can understand that, though invisible, these heavenly advocates are really present and can give real help.
Dr. Dugdale says the modern image “lacks any sort of intrinsic morality” and is “devoid of any larger narrative.” The medieval image clearly has a moral message: “patience is a virtue” (I hear that in my mother’s voice) and patience is an important virtue in the art of dying. The presence of the angels and demons in the medieval image evoke the larger narrative. The dying man is engaged in “spiritual warfare,” struggling to exercise virtue and resist vice. But he’s not the only character in this narrative. There are supernatural beings who both aid and oppose him.
Christianity rejects the idea that those good and evil forces are equal. God is the source of all and God will win the victory. In my own conversations with sick and dying people, I often talk about what Saint Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians about how “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels . . . always carrying about in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body . . . although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day . . . this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-18). Through faith, the unseen glory of the Spirit of Jesus in the dying Christian is made manifest. The main character in this narrative of Christian death is not the Christian. It is God.
Blanch wanted to include this image. Unfortunately, you are not able to include images in the “comments” sections of these pages. If anyone else wants to post an image, send it to me and I’ll gladly post it.