Either I haven’t seen enough or there really isn’t much.
And what I am referring to is how the artists’ depictions of Death. I have seen many. They usually come in skeletal forms or in ominous, dark shapes and figures, hooded and cloaked and masked, wielding a scythe or some other bladed instrument or even an hourglass. And each one of them emphasizing one aspect: Death is fearsome.
Until I saw one particular work of John William Waterhouse.
Here was Death, sitting up, eyes closed, on a bed. Next to him was his brother, Sleep. And both of them looking as human as the rest of us. No menacing eyes, no wicked sneers, no dark auras, no evil blades. It all looked like a frozen piece of memory about two human boys taking a nap. Or is it a nap?
On one of my researches, I found out that Waterhouse painted this piece when his two brothers died.
Art imitating life?
It’s not unusual to preserve a memory of the dead. It’s actually a practice some decades back to prop the deceased loved ones to a position that would make them look like they just fell asleep during the pictorial. And those photographs were compiled into albums that some called the book of the dead.
Sounds and looks macabre, even unappealing, doesn’t it?
Maybe that is why a great number of us—including those who aren’t artists—could never depict in whatever way Death as looking human. It is a part of our cycle that we dread and we hate. And to show something abhorrent as something like us is unimaginable, unacceptable. We could never accept Death. We could never see him as one of us.
Death is never human. Or so we’d like to believe.