Death and the erotic woman: The European gendering of mortality in times of major religious change

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Abstract

This paper explores the use of European erotic death imagery produced in the Death and the Maiden (D&M) genre in two time periods. It compares and contrasts D&M imagery produced by the Germanic-speaking proto/early-Reformation artists, Hans Baldung (alias Grien) (c1484–1545), Niklaus Manuel (known as Deutsch) (c1484–1530) and Sebald Beham (known as Hans Sebald Beham) (1500–1550) which highlighted the folly, futility and transience of earthly vanities during the transition from Roman Catholic to Protestant Christianity, with contemporary calendar art produced by Cofani Funebri (from 2003) and Lindner (from 2010) which advertise coffins manufactured in the increasingly secular countries of Italy and Poland. Drawing on Biblical narrative, Augustinian theology and European socio-cultural perceptions of gender, this paper argues that these D&M images are highly eroticised and place woman as signifiers of transcient life (vanitas) and earthly pleasure (voluptas), juxtaposing her with a masculine/male representation of death; Death being imaged as an individual in the sixteenth century, and as a coffin in the contemporary works. The paper also contextualises the imagery in terms of traditional European Christian notions of life and death, as informed by the Biblical Fall narrative, with its elucidations of sin, concupiscence and punishment. It thus asserts that both socio-cultural and religious attitudes towards gender are highly significant in D&M imagery and indeed in terms of the artworks, argues that the masculine signifier of Death can be placed as Adam, whilst the Maiden, as fecund life, represents Eve. However, the overt eroticism of both sets of artworks also allows for a reading that draws on Messaris' [(1997). Visual persuasion; the role of images in advertising. London: Sage] notion that visual images ‘make a persuasive communication due to iconicity; the emotional response to the visual image presented’. Thus, this paper contrasts D&M imagery produced over 400 years apart to examine consciously erotic gendered thanantological allegories of women as vanitas and voluptas, and the male/masculine as representations of Death.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-418
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Volume24
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2014

Keywords

  • gender
  • contemporary Europe
  • Reformation Europe
  • Christianity
  • death
  • erotic

Cite this

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abstract = "This paper explores the use of European erotic death imagery produced in the Death and the Maiden (D&M) genre in two time periods. It compares and contrasts D&M imagery produced by the Germanic-speaking proto/early-Reformation artists, Hans Baldung (alias Grien) (c1484–1545), Niklaus Manuel (known as Deutsch) (c1484–1530) and Sebald Beham (known as Hans Sebald Beham) (1500–1550) which highlighted the folly, futility and transience of earthly vanities during the transition from Roman Catholic to Protestant Christianity, with contemporary calendar art produced by Cofani Funebri (from 2003) and Lindner (from 2010) which advertise coffins manufactured in the increasingly secular countries of Italy and Poland. Drawing on Biblical narrative, Augustinian theology and European socio-cultural perceptions of gender, this paper argues that these D&M images are highly eroticised and place woman as signifiers of transcient life (vanitas) and earthly pleasure (voluptas), juxtaposing her with a masculine/male representation of death; Death being imaged as an individual in the sixteenth century, and as a coffin in the contemporary works. The paper also contextualises the imagery in terms of traditional European Christian notions of life and death, as informed by the Biblical Fall narrative, with its elucidations of sin, concupiscence and punishment. It thus asserts that both socio-cultural and religious attitudes towards gender are highly significant in D&M imagery and indeed in terms of the artworks, argues that the masculine signifier of Death can be placed as Adam, whilst the Maiden, as fecund life, represents Eve. However, the overt eroticism of both sets of artworks also allows for a reading that draws on Messaris' [(1997). Visual persuasion; the role of images in advertising. London: Sage] notion that visual images ‘make a persuasive communication due to iconicity; the emotional response to the visual image presented’. Thus, this paper contrasts D&M imagery produced over 400 years apart to examine consciously erotic gendered thanantological allegories of women as vanitas and voluptas, and the male/masculine as representations of Death.",
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Death and the erotic woman: The European gendering of mortality in times of major religious change. / Welch, Christina.

In: Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 24, No. 4, 03.09.2014, p. 399-418.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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