Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life painting is based loosely on the dance of death depicted in medieval and renaissance times as death coming to visit people in all ranks and positions in society. Usually death holds an hourglass or a scythe implying that everything has a time to pass and be reaped off the earth. Unusually, Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life depicts death holding a club which looks much more dangerous, animalistic and menacing.
The skull of death is looking towards life eagerly, inching its neck out and head forward like a predator inspecting its prey. Life is depicted in an arrested cornucopic architecture of human bodies, like a column of flesh showing old and young, male and female alike. There is a sense of generation after generation of human beings who have been or will be taken by death.