The Ship of Fools and Allegory of Gluttony and Lust.
Death and the Miser belongs to the tradition of the memento mori, works that remind the viewer of the inevitability of death. The painting shows the influence of popular 15th-century handbooks on the art of dying (Ars moriendi), intended to help Christians choose Christ over sinful pleasures. As Death looms, the miser, unable to resist worldly temptations, reaches for the bag of gold offered by a demon, even while an angel points to a crucifix from which a slender beam of light descends.
There are references in the painting to dichotomous modes of life. A crucifix is set on the only (small) window of the room. A thin ray of light is directed down to the bottom of the large room, which is darkened. A demon holding an ember lurks over the dying man, waiting for his hour. Death is dressed in flowing robes that may be a subtle allusion to a prostitute's garb. He holds an arrow aimed at the miser's groin, which indicates that the dying man suffers from a venereal disease, which itself may be associated with a love of earthly pleasures.
In the foreground, Bosch possibly depicts the miser as he was previously, in full health, storing gold in his money chest while clutching his rosary. Symbols of worldly power such as a helmet, sword and shield allude to earthly follies — and hint at the station held by this man during his life, though his final struggle is one he must undergo naked, without arms or armor.
The depiction of such still-life objects to symbolize earthly vanity, transience or decay would become a genre in itself among 17th-century Flemish artists.
Whether or not the miser, in his last moments, will embrace the salvation offered by Christ or cling to his worldly riches, is left uncertain.
Jean Marais (1913-1998) ~ Sphinx with horns, patinated bronze sculpture unknow date -
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