Discussion Post for THE LOST ART OF DYING, Chapter 2 Art, pages 222-223

Here is Michael W. Dugger’s ink rendering for chapter 2:

Here is the vanitas painting of Philippe de Champaigne that Dr. Dugdale refers to on page 32 and alludes to again on page 222:

Dr. Dugdale observes the continuity between the older and newer images, noting that the vanitas paintings “often incorporated flowers into their compositions.” The flower as a memento mori image is certainly evocative. The hourglass and (more so) the skull are starker images. Perhaps they are too stark and, in the case of the skull, too morbid for a contemporary ars moriendi? Or would the sort of shock therapy these images might provoke be beneficial to our “death defying” culture?

The flower illustrated here remains attached to its bulb, suggesting the ‘life journey’ of a plant from roots to flowers. A perennial evokes more enduring patters of time.

Page 222

The “journey” that is suggested to Dr. Dugdale by the flower attached to its bulb is the “‘life journey’ of a plant from roots to flowers.” The flower in the vanitas painting is cut from bulb and roots, perhaps suggesting the “death journey” of a plant that withers and fades. The “enduring patters of time” that Dr. Dugdale finds evoked by the image on page 223 seem to embrace both “journeys.” The plant goes from roots to flowers and back to the earth with seeds that renew the “life journey.” This “patterns” could be understood as suggesting a kind of cyclical or even “reincarnational” view of life or history. Christianity follows the Jewish understanding of life and history as more-or-less linear progressions. God’s purposes for individual human beings and for the whole of creation will be definitively fulfilled on the last day. There is a beginning and an end. Death is a one-time event in the “life journey” of God children.

The lily is a common funeral flower: its scent possesses the strength to mask the stench of decay. It is also an Easter flower, hinting at the new life following death.

Page 222

The association of lilies with Easter has been attributed to their white color that suggests purity, their trumpet-like shape that evokes the Easter proclamation, and their rising to new life in the Spring. In these ways the Easter lily seems to hint not only at new life after death, but to a greater, purer life worthy of being proclaimed with trumpet blasts. The lily’s association with funerals is interesting in this connection. Is there a way that the lily, and this particular image of the lily, could be associated with Good Friday together with Easter Sunday? I’m looking at a mental picture of Jesus emerging from the tomb on Easter Sunday surrounded by the lilies that were laid there on the occasion of his Good Friday burial. The lilies that were intended to mask the stench of decay now trumpet the good news of the Risen Lord!

8 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LOST ART OF DYING, Chapter 2 Art, pages 222-223”

  1. The Lily out of the soil suggests it is moving on to a new place. That seems appropriate to dying and moving onto a better place. We could look at as moving onto our heavenly homeland. The painting with the skull seems very stark and disturbing. I imagine it as someone contemplating death in a way that is not completely healthy or doing research. Research is healthy.

  2. I find the picture of the Lilly both symbolic and comforting.
    Although we know the beautiful bloom will certainly wither and die, we can remain hopeful that if the bulb is cared for – even though it goes through a period in the dark and cold – it will certainly bloom again.. And if we care for our souls, even if we go through a period of darkness, we can be assured we will rise again into eternal life. Hope blooms eternal.

  3. The first image seems very stark and suggests a sense of violence – the lily has been pulled out of the ground, separated from its life source, and is hanging in mid air – neither here nor there. Both flowers are facing different directions, also giving a sense of separation and discord. There is a stem but no leaves – a sign of sterility? Perhaps this is death from a perspective of unbelief in an afterlife.

    The second picture is comforting. There is a sense of order and peacefulness; the three items are side by side and convey to me life here on earth (the lily), death (the skull) and life in eternity (the hourglass).

    We see only the flower, not the stem, because the lily is getting it’s support from the vase, which is holding it in place – the mouth of the vase is not too large for it to slip into the water and not too narrow. It is directly in water, which is giving the lily its sustenance and life. The lily here seems to represent our human life, which gets its source and sustenance from God, not from ourselves. Our life is in God’s hands.

    The strong fragrance of the lily comes from its immersion in its source. It made me think of what St. Paul said about our being “an aroma of Christ”. When we “live well” and try to remain immersed in him, we will be filled with his fragrance, which will be inhaled by others.

    The hourglass, with the never-ending sand, may represent eternal life. It is brown, neutral and indistinct because we do not know what eternity is like, but it beckons – one of the leaves of the lily is leaning toward the hourglass while all the others are upright.

    From this life to the next, we have to pass through death – the image of the skull. In this picture, there is something on the other side of the skull – death does not have the final word. We pass from this life to eternal life, in God.

    Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly”. If we strive to live each day immersed in our source (as difficult, painful and challenging as that is), we may not be so fearful of death. No need to download the “WeCroak” app.

  4. There is something jarring about the lily without water or soil, which looks very much alive but clearly has nothing that will keep it alive. It still feels rather tame next to the discolored, nearly toothless skull in the older painting. But perhaps today the difference is much more subjective: I don’t know what shock value a painting of a skull had in the 1600s but I know it has very little now. So what might be the modern equivalent? I’m not sure: we are mostly desensitized to images of death, in news, film, and art. That is particularly striking for a culture that struggles so much with the actuality of death.

  5. The picture with skulll, lilly and hourglass..made me think of the pop song…”All we are is dust in the wind”…or the soap opera “like sand through an hour glass’…so goes” the days of our lives”…These are similar to “remember man…thou art dust..and were
    very very on target, for me!! Last week’s Mass reading ….”you know not the day nor the hour” ….for sure!!! that is true, however we try to distort it, or plan it…we know not when !!.but we know for sure…!!..death and taxes!!! true…!! When I viewed the art, I had at first focused on the llly….roots below and then banching into flowers with petals….If you split it visually,into quads and move its trumpet like shape…similar to popsicle sticks, it could look like a cross..Yes.. Easter, new life…after death of good friday…Yes, a very poignant flower…pretty, yet associated with grief and sorrow surely for most…so maybe not as receptive or inviting to most people the way we think of “roses” for weddings or carnations for high school proms ..”life events” Surely both ends of the spectrum of our journey ….life and death…and all that is in between…as we pilgrims walk the journey….easy to forget….this is not forever….

  6. The drawing of the lily from blossom to root does not seem to me an appropriate symbol for death since this flower is decidedly and beautifully alive. The cut flower in the “Vanitas” painting seems more appropriate to me since it will have a short life in the water and then die. Many flower paintings from northern Europe in the early modern period are gorgeous bouquets of different sorts of flowers, but included in them are always some signs of decay: one flower is wilting, or out of the vase, or there is a dead leaf below, or there are insects in the painting who will eat the flowers, or there may even be a reflection in the vase or an hourglass next to it to remind us that time passes, and that these flowers are already dying. The beauty of this glorious autumn season we are now enjoying in NYC is for me tinged with sadness because those golden leaves are falling, and winter is on its way. This natural progression of the seasons seems to me a better metaphor for human life: we too have our seasons, and our autumn days will end in winter and death, but like the rest of nature, we look forward to the spring of the resurrection.

  7. Flowers, as Dugger has drawn and the vanitas painting has shown, remind us of intense beauty and at the same time, finitude. This is true for the flower and for us. And where lilies are perhaps the most beautiful and most reminiscent of life after life, all flowers capture the truth of our earthy existence. As I watched spring turn to summer this year, and now fade to fall colors I am reminded that without the belief of life after life we would all be cast adrift in sadness. Thank you to Dr. Dugdale and Father Jonah for reminding us of this eternal truth.

  8. Not a leaf has withered; not a petal has fallen. We gaze upon the beauty of a flourishing life with a reminder of its humble origins. Old age, sickness and death are notably absent from Michael W. Dugger’s ink rendering. Perhaps, like many of us, he prefers to focus on the glory of life.

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