Obelisk Art History
Themes in Art

Death in Art
Life's only guarantee

Death in Art, Themes in ArtFunerary Portrait of Jacques Damala

Memento Mori, vanitas, mortality — death is one of the most pervasive themes in art history. While many artworks celebrate afterlives in heaven or hell, death is most often referenced as grim reminder of numbered days, and a powerful motivator to live well while you can. Every culture has rituals surrounding death, appearing in artwork as icons and colors. Hourglasses and wilted flowers for the Dutch, the Cuckoo bird in Japan, the Totenkopf in Germany.

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"Know Thyself" Skeleton Mosaic, Ancient Rome

"Know Thyself" Skeleton Mosaic

c. 100 CE
A Funeral, Anna Ancher

A Funeral

Anna Ancher, 1891
After the Storm, Sarah Bernhardt

After the Storm

Sarah Bernhardt, 1876
Ahasuerus at the End of the World, Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl

Ahasuerus at the End of the World

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1888
Akashi Gidayū’s Death Poem, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Akashi Gidayū’s Death Poem

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1890
Camille Monet on her Deathbed, Claude Monet

Camille Monet on her Deathbed

Claude Monet, 1879
Cleopatra, Giampietrino


Giampietrino, 1524-1526
Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners, Alexandre Cabanel

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners

Alexandre Cabanel, 1887
Crucifixion and Last Judgement, Jan Van Eyck

Crucifixion and Last Judgement

Jan Van Eyck, 1430-1440
Death and Life, Gustav Klimt

Death and Life

Gustav Klimt, 1910-1915
Death and the Maiden, Marianne Stokes

Death and the Maiden

Marianne Stokes, c. 1908
Death of Clytaemnestra, Stanley William Hayter

Death of Clytaemnestra

Stanley William Hayter, 1949
Death of Constantine, The Enlightenment

Death of Constantine

Death of the Horseman or Brandemart Crying, Émile Bernard

Death of the Horseman or Brandemart Crying

Émile Bernard, 1892
Death: “My Irony Surpasses All Others”, Odilon Redon

Death: “My Irony Surpasses All Others”

Odilon Redon, 1888
Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt van Rijn

Descent from the Cross

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633
Disk of Mictlantecuhtli, Teotihuacan Culture

Disk of Mictlantecuhtli

1 CE-600 CE
Dying Gaul, Ancient Rome

Dying Gaul

250 BCE
Executions on the Third of May, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

Executions on the Third of May

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1814
Funeral and the Crescent, Ibrahim El-Salahi

Funeral and the Crescent

Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1963
Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala, Sarah Bernhardt

Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala

Sarah Bernhardt, 1889
Ghosts of the Forest, Marsden Hartley

Ghosts of the Forest

Marsden Hartley, 1938
Gold Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol

Gold Marilyn Monroe

Andy Warhol, 1962
Grave Circle A (Mycenae), Aegean Civilizations

Grave Circle A (Mycenae)

1600 BCE-1550 BCE
Grave Circle B (Mycenae), Aegean Civilizations

Grave Circle B (Mycenae)

1675 BCE-1550 BCE
Grave Mask from Grave Circle A, Aegean Civilizations

Grave Mask from Grave Circle A

1600 BCE-1500 BCE
Guernica, Pablo Picasso


Pablo Picasso, 1937
Hope 1, Gustav Klimt

Hope 1

Gustav Klimt, 1903
In Memoriam Karl Liebknecht, Käthe Kollwitz

In Memoriam Karl Liebknecht

Käthe Kollwitz, 1920
Iris in a Vase, Marie Bracquemond

Iris in a Vase

Marie Bracquemond, 1886
Lace Glove, Hippolyte Bayard

Lace Glove

Hippolyte Bayard, 1843-1846
Lady of Baza, The Iberians

Lady of Baza

350 BCE
Laocoön, El Greco


El Greco, 1604-1614
Laocoön and His Sons, Ancient Greece

Laocoön and His Sons

200 BCE
Massacre of the Innocents, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Massacre of the Innocents

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565-1567
Mummy with an Inserted Panel Portrait of a Youth, Coptic Art

Mummy with an Inserted Panel Portrait of a Youth

c. 80 CE-100 CE

The town was on fire, the quarter where the poor Jews lived. They carried the bed and the mattress, the mother and the babe at her feet, to a safe place at the other end of town. But, first of all, I was born dead.

My Life - Marc Chagall Autobiography: Chapter 1

Marc Chagall, 1922
Night, Ferdinand Hodler


Ferdinand Hodler, 1890
Ophelia, John Everett Millais


John Everett Millais, 1851-1852
Ophelia, Sarah Bernhardt


Sarah Bernhardt, 1880
Pentre Ifan Dolmen, Neolithic

Pentre Ifan Dolmen

3500 BCE
Red Hill and Bones, Georgia O'Keeffe

Red Hill and Bones

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1941
Ria Munk on her Deathbed, Gustav Klimt

Ria Munk on her Deathbed

Gustav Klimt, 1912
Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, The Etruscans

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

140 BCE
Seaside Cemetery, Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl

Seaside Cemetery

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1897
Self-Portrait as Drowned Man, Hippolyte Bayard

Self-Portrait as Drowned Man

Hippolyte Bayard, 1840
Self-portrait with fiddling Death, Arnold Böcklin

Self-portrait with fiddling Death

Arnold Böcklin, 1872
Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man, James Ensor

Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man

James Ensor, 1891
Souls on the Banks of the Acheron, Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl

Souls on the Banks of the Acheron

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1898
Still Life with Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells, Clara Peeters

Still Life with Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells

Clara Peeters, 1611
More Themes in Art
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Ancient Classics, Themes in Art

Ancient Classics

A good story never gets old

Beauty, Themes in Art


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