Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Tuesday 13th December - The Cup of Death

Uh-oh, it's Tuesday 13th!  That has to be unlucky, maybe not as unlucky as Friday 13th but I have a cold and sciatica so I feel pretty cursed right now.  It's nothing a good spaghetti bolognese won't cure, which is incidentally what I have for tea.  Anyway, in this temporarily bleak mood, I felt this would be suitable...

The Cup of Death (1892) Kathleen Bruce
Hello Cheery! Well, our young lady here looks a bit fed up of it all.  Dressed only in a gauzy robe, she is reaching for the proffered cup from our kindly angel.  Or not so kindly angel.  Our winged friend here is dressed in black and is gesturing skyward as per normal, but the impression you get is that she is indicating the destination rather than who sent her.  That lift only goes one way...

The Angel of Death (1881) Evelyn de Morgan
For Evelyn de Morgan, death always came in the guise of an angel.  I hadn't really thought about it, but for many artists, Death is not a chap in a black hood and scythe.  Although the Angel above has those accessories, there is nothing scary about her or him.  Religiously speaking, the Angel of Death was Azrael, a sort of celestial bookkeeper, recording and erasing people as they are born and die. He exists in several religions, often by the same name, and is one of the archangels, responsible for returning souls to heaven.  That's less religion, more administration if you ask me...

Death of a Butterfly (1910) Evelyn de Morgan
For de Morgan, the angel of death seems to swoop in when we are in need to sort out the end.  The wings are magnificent, like a raven or black swan.  I feel nothing threatening in de Morgan's angels.  They are just there to look after you, so that you are not alone at the end.  Blimey, this is a jolly post...

Death and the Maiden (1908) Marianne Stokes
That's better.  Holy Moly, that is the worst wake up call ever.  She should have bought a teasmade rather than the sinister angel with the lamp who doesn't even make you a cup of tea.  Plus those wings are just filling that room. 
"Good morning Angel, what do you fancy doing this morning?" 
"I dunno, die?"
"Can we try a bit of scrapbooking first?"
"'Spose so..."

Death and the Gravedigger (1900) Carlos Schwabe
And here is someone else who underestimated how much room their wings would take up.  There are feathers all over the place.  Maybe this old chap is being inadvertently tickled to death.  Maybe he has bird allergies.  I notice the angel has waited until our gravedigger has finished digging the hole before striking him dead.  That's an efficient angel.  I'm sure God will reflect that in her angel appraisal.  Love her hair too.

Angel of Death Simeon Solomon
When you think about it, the figure of Death as a skeleton with cloak and scythe is an odd one, both spiritual and secular, not connected with any deity but still reaping us up like corn.  Giving the role to an angel makes more sense in some ways, and is far more comforting, because it is linked to a narrative. It's very human to want sense at such a nonsensical moment in life, the end of it, and even more want for a guide to show us what to do. The comforting, stoical form of an angel is preferable to that of a skeleton because at moments like this, who wants to be reminded of what we shall become.  Angels bring peace and grace to the whole palarver, and having seen death, I feel that is sorely lacking.  As ever vain, fearful, fragile humans I think we would prefer to think of ourselves swooning away into the arms of a sturdy angel who would whisk us off to heaven.

Mother's Last Kiss (1865) Alexandre Antigna
Flippin' Nora, this is a tad dramatic and magnificently Victorian. This is a mother embracing her baby (I think in spirit as there is also a 'mother' figure nearest us) as the little munchkin is being carted off to heaven by an angel. Those Victorians, they loved a feel-good picture...

Triumph der Finsternis (1896) Sascha Schneider
At the end of it all, however, if you have to go there are worse ways to go than being carted off by a good looking angel.  Look at the state of this one, he's obviously been working out.  Look at that beard!  That is one hipster Angel of Death! I rather like his curled up moustache too.  Hang on, the title translates as the Triumph of Darkness.  Oh, possibly this demonstrates why I am not allowed to go off with people I don't know. I'd no doubt meet this rather nice looking fellow and the last words you'd hear from me would be 'Are you sure we're going in the right direction..?'

Eep! See you tomorrow...


  1. Dear Kirsty
    Wow, that last chap is one seriously creepy looking angel - more like a demon, I'd say. You definitely don't want him showing up at your demise because I don't think he'd be pointing skywards. I'm not quite sure exactly what he is staring at so intently, either (it is all a bit worrying and I may have to go and lie down in a darkened room). (Incidentally, the dead figure reminds me of the rather gruesome 'The Body of the Dead Christ in the tomb' by Holbein).
    Best wishes

    1. Yes, I see what you mean by the Holbein, there is definitely a likeness. That is one beardy angel and no mistake...


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