This print is a recreation of a beautiful anonymous German engraving from 1635 that featuresa standing, smiling skeleton aiming a crossbow. An hourglass rests by his back foot. A broken arrow sits beside it and there is another one in the quiver. It was a piece of art designed to hang at eye level so that the arrow--the one locked and loaded into the crossbow--was pointing directly at the viewer. In French, the inscription reads
“Ma flesche (asseure toy) n’espargnera personne
Vous danserez trestout ce balet, que je sonnne
My arrow (I promise you) spares no one
You will all dance the ballet of which I sing”
It’s a fantastic and haunting memento mori, meant to be looked at multiple times a day. It calls to mind the quote from the movie Gladiator, which has been wrongly attributed to Marcus Aurelius, “Death smiles at every man, and all a man can do is smile back.”
More than “art,” this was a practice, part of a genre known as “The Dance of Death” (Danse macabre). “Danse macabre wasn’t just a generalized response to mortality,” says Elizabeth Welch, a curator at the Blanton Museum, “but instead specifically a performative social leveling that could be used...to think about mortality and the inevitability of physical decay.”
This is why the skeleton is grinning. The symbolism is dark but it’s also absurd. Like life, and death. We are born...to die. It can come and take us at any time, for the most ridiculous of reasons. Just look to Chrysippus, the famous Stoic, who died because he laughed too hard at a donkey eating figs in his front yard.
He, of all people, would agree that death’s arrow spares no one. All we can do is smile back and live while we can. This print, designed to hang at eye-level like the original engraving, is meant to help you remember--to smile and live life with urgency.
Each print is hand-numbered out of 1,000 and letterpress printed on elegant 8″ x 10″ Lettra stock. The print is framed within a matching 8” x 10” wood frame.
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