ADVERTISING
 
Monday, February 18   Sign in or Register
 
Evangelical Focus
 

 
 
 
FOLLOW US ON
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud
 

Newsletter
Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.
 
 

POLL
Bible literacy
How often do you read the Bible?







SEE MORE POLLS
 

 
TOP 10 MOST VIEWED



René Breuel
 

Longing for death

What is my picture of death? What awaits me? Will beauty engulf me, or will I dance on its bosom? Will I finish by myself, or will eternity ravish me with overflowing life.

CULTURE MAKING AUTHOR René Breuel 29 APRIL 2017 19:00 h GMT+1
Arnold Böcklin, Die Toteninsel III (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin). The Isle of the Death. / Wikimedia (CC)

Adolf Hitler spent a fortune in 1936 to buy a painting and hang it in his office. A secluded isle, surrounded by the boundless mysterious sea, is approached by a rowboat, and a figure clad entirely in white faces the water gate. In the rocky walls of the island are carved sepulchral portals, and dark cypress trees dominate the enigmatic center of the picture. Hitler had this painting in his office until the last moment, until he shot himself in his bunker in Berlin.



It wasn’t only Hitler who was fascinated with Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead. Freud had a copy in his office, and Lenin had one hanging just above his bed.



The painting inspired works by Munch, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí, a symphony by Rachmaninoff, and Nabokov noted that the painting was to be “found in every Berlin home” in the early 20th century.[1] Böcklin himself described the Isle of the Dead as “a dream picture: it must produce such a stillness that one would be awed by a knock on the door.”[2]



What makes this painting so magnetic? Part of it is its surreal beauty: a funerary island floating on nothingness, with its massive walls unrivalled by the waveless calm of the ocean, the trees and the clouds bending to the whisper of the wind, the last rays of light that illuminate the island growing dimmer and dimmer, as the sun falls into its abyss. Part of the drawing power of this painting emerges from the questions it raises too. Who is that white figure? What is the oarsman feeling? What lies behind the cypress trees? A passage to the underworld, perhaps?



But maybe what attracts us most strongly to Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead is the allure of death drawing close. We can feel a frenzied calm taking over our hearts as “life as we know it” finishes and we are buried into some kind of mysterious destiny. We hear the silence of the moment, the serene embrace of the wind smoothing our skin, the attraction and the fear that dominate us as we approach the center of the island. Our existence approaches its twilight, and we try to take in a last flash of beauty before our eyes close.



Curiously, after five editions of Isle of the Dead, Böcklin painted also an Isle of Life. It is filled with signs of joy and vividness: music, company, dance, intimacy, color, animals, the blue sky, friendship. Instead of the tense magnetism of Isle of the Dead, this painting produces relief. One picture gets us bracing for death, the other relaxes our muscles. In one picture we are the tragic hero; in the other, part of a joyous feast in nature.



These paintings get me thinking. What is my picture of death? What awaits me?



Will beauty engulf me, or will I dance on its bosom? Will I finish by myself, or will eternity ravish me with overflowing life.



 



[1] Vladimir Nabokov, Despair (1936), 56.



[2] John Culshaw, Rachmaninov: The Man and his Music (1949), 7.


 

 


0
COMMENTS

    If you want to comment, or

 



 
 
YOUR ARE AT: - - - Longing for death
 
ADVERTISING
 
 
 
AUDIOS Audios
 
Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels

An interview with the socio-political representative of the European Evangelical Alliance about how evangelical Christians work at the heart of the European Union.

 
Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church

An interview with Lars Dahle, of the Steering Committee of the Lausanne Movement Global Consultation on Nominal Christianity held in Rome.

 
Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies

RZIM International Director Michael Ramsden responds to questions about the secularisation of Europe, the role of Christians in public leadership and the new ‘culture of victimism’.

 
PICTURES Pictures
 
Bulgaria: Evangelicals ask government to protect religious minorities Bulgaria: Evangelicals ask government to protect religious minorities

Christians rallied in Sofia on November 18 to defend their rights. It is the second Sunday of peaceful demonstrations against a new religion draft law that could severely restrict religious freedom and rights of minority faith confessions.

 
Photos: #WalkForFreedom Photos: #WalkForFreedom

Abolitionists marched through 400 cities in 51 countries. Pictures from Valencia (Spain), October 20.

 
Photos: Reaching people with disabilities Photos: Reaching people with disabilities

Seminars, an arts exhibition, discussion and testimonies. The European Disability Network met in Tallinn.

 
VIDEO Video
 
In the workshop of cartoonist Alain Auderset In the workshop of cartoonist Alain Auderset

The Swiss-Spanish artist and Evangelical Focus author speaks about how he relates work and faith.

 
Can science explain everything? Can science explain everything?

A debate about science and faith between Oxford Emeritus Professor of Mathematics John Lennox and Oxford Emeritus Professor in Chemistry Peter Atkins. Moderated by journalist Justin Brierley.

 
The gospel in East Ukraine's prisons The gospel in East Ukraine's prisons

Many are coming to Christ in some of the toughest prisons in this troubled part of the country.

 
 
Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube
 
 
WE RECOMMEND
 
PARTNERS
 

 
AEE
EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.
 

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.