Ars moriendi

The Ars moriendi ("The Art of Dying") are two related Latin texts dating from about 1415 and 1450 which offer advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death, explaining how to "die well" according to Christian precepts of the late Middle Ages. It was written within the historical context of the effects of the macabre horrors of the Black Death 60 years earlier and consequent social upheavals of the 15th century. It was very popular, translated into most West European languages, and was the first in a western literary tradition of guides to death and dying. About 50,000 copies were printed in the incunabula period before 1501.[1]

There was originally a "long version" and a later "short version" containing eleven woodcut pictures as instructive images which could be easily explained and memorized.

The authors of the two texts are unknown, but assumed to be Dominican churchmen, as they echo Jean de Gerson's publication, the Opusculum Tripartitu, containing a section named De arte Moriendi. Gerson may have been influenced by earlier references in 'compendia of faith' dating back to the thirteenth century, but the content was uniquely his own.[2]

Pride of the spirit is one of the five temptations of the dying man, according to Ars moriendi. Here, demons tempt the dying man with crowns (a medieval allegory to earthly pride) under the disapproving gaze of Mary, Christ and God. Woodblock seven (4a) of eleven, Netherlands, circa 1460.

Long version

The original "long version", called Tractatus (or Speculum) artis bene moriendi, was composed in 1415 by an anonymous Dominican friar, probably at the request of the Council of Constance (1414–1418, Germany).[3] This was widely read and translated into most West European languages, and was very popular in England, where a tradition of consolatory death literature survived until the 17th century. Works in the English tradition include The Way of Dying Well and The Sick Mannes Salve. In 1650, Holy Living and Holy Dying became the "artistic climax" of the tradition that had begun with Ars moriendi.[4]

Ars Moriendi was also among the first books printed with movable type and was widely circulated in nearly 100 editions before 1500, in particular in Germany. The long version survives in about 300 manuscript versions, only one illustrated.

Ars moriendi consists of six chapters:[3]

  1. The first chapter explains that dying has a good side, and serves to console the dying man that death is not something to be afraid of.
  2. The second chapter outlines the five temptations that beset a dying man, and how to avoid them. These are lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice.
  3. The third chapter lists the seven questions to ask a dying man, along with consolation available to him through the redemptive powers of Christ's love.
  4. The fourth chapter expresses the need to imitate Christ's life.
  5. The fifth chapter addresses the friends and family, outlining the general rules of behavior at the deathbed.
  6. The sixth chapter includes appropriate prayers to be said for a dying man.

Short version

The "short version", whose appearance shortly precedes the introduction in the 1460s of block books (books printed from carved blocks of wood, both text and images on the same block), first dates to around 1450, from the Netherlands.[3] It is mostly an adaptation of the second chapter of the "long version", and contains eleven woodcut pictures. The first ten woodcuts are divided into 5 pairs, with each set showing a picture of the devil presenting one of the 5 temptations, and the second picture showing the proper remedy for that temptation. The last woodcut shows the dying man, presumably having successfully navigated the maze of temptations, being accepted into heaven, and the devils going back to hell in confusion.

The "short version" was as popular as the "long version", but there was no English translation, perhaps because educated English people at the time were expected to understand several European languages. There are six extant manuscripts of the short version, most not illustrated, and over twenty extant blockbook illustrated editions, using 13 different sets of blocks.[5]

Ars moriendi (Meister E.S.), L.175
Temptation of lack of Faith; engraving by Master E. S., circa 1450

The images

As well as the eleven different sets of blockbook woodcuts, there is a set by Master E. S. in engraving. The lengthy controversy over their respective dating and priority is now resolved by the discovery by Fritz Saxl of an earlier illuminated manuscript, of well before 1450, from whose tradition all the images in the printed versions clearly derive. Studies of the watermarks of the blockbooks by Allen Stevenson at the British Museum in the 1960s confirmed that none of them predated the 1460s, so Master E. S.' engravings are the earliest printed versions, dating from around 1450. The images remain largely the same in all media for the rest of the century.[6]

There is the exceptional number of about seventy incunabulum editions, in a variety of languages, from Catalan to Dutch, the earliest from about 1474 from Cologne.[7]

Allegorically the images depicted the contest between angels and demons over the fate of the dying man. In his dying agony his soul emerges from his mouth to be received by one of a band of angels. Common themes portrayed by illustrators include skeletons, the Last Judgement, corpses, and the forces of good and evil battling over souls.[1]

Extended tradition

The popularity of the Ars moriendi texts developed into a broader tradition of writing on the good death. Jeremy Taylor's books Holy Living and Holy Dying, published in 1650 and 1651, exemplify that tradition. It developed in both Protestant and Catholic veins and continued in various forms through the nineteenth century.

See also


  1. ^ a b Martyn Lyons (2011). Books: A Living History. ISBN 978-1-60606-083-4
  2. ^ Paul, Kathryn (2015). "The Ars Moriendi: A Practical Approach To Dying Well". Modern Believing. ATLASerials. 56 (2): 213. doi:10.3828/mb.2015.19. ISSN 1353-1425.
  3. ^ a b c N.F. Blake (1982). "Ars Moriendi". Dictionary of the Middle Ages. v.1, pp547-8. ISBN 0-684-16760-3
  4. ^ Nancy Beaty (1970). The Craft of Dying: A Study of the Literary Traditions of the Ars Moriendi in England. ISBN 0-300-01336-1
  5. ^ A Hyatt Mayor (1971), Prints and People, Metropolitan Museum of Art/Princeton, numbers 23-25.ISBN 0-691-00326-2
  6. ^ Alan Shestack (1967). Master E. S., exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, exhibit numbers 4-15
  7. ^ "ISTC, British Library". 2005-10-27. Archived from the original on 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2013-01-14.


External links

Charles Rogier

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Charles Woeste

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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.

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.

In the foreground, Bosch possibly depicts the miser as he was previously, in full health, storing gold in his money chest (which abounds with demons) 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. While an angel (i.e. his Guardian Angel) points and looks upward to a crucifix [i.e. Salvation] from which a slender beam of light descends; as Death looms, the miser's gaze and hand are directed downward , unable to resist worldly temptations, reaches for the bag of gold offered by a temping demon, .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.

Bosch's familiarity with the visual tradition of the Ars Moriendi can be seen in the top left roundel depicting the death of a sinner in The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. There are several points of similarity, such as the figure of Death and the juxtaposition of an angel and devil at the headboard.

Felix de Muelenaere

Félix Amandus, Count de Muelenaere (5 April 1793 – 5 August 1862) was a Belgian Roman Catholic politician.

Born in Pittem, he was a lawyer in Bruges and was from 1824 until 1829 member of the Second Chamber of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands for the province of West Flanders. After the independence of Belgium, he became provincial governor in West Flanders (1830–1831), member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives for the arrondissement of Bruges (1831–1848), and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first Belgian government.

After the inauguration of Leopold I as king in 1831, he became the third Prime Minister until 1832. Afterwards, he became again provincial governor for West-Flanders (1832–1834, 1836–1849) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1834–1836, 1841). From 1850 until his death in 1862 in his birthplace Pittem, he was member of the Chamber for the arrondissement of Tielt.

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He served as governor of Antwerp from 1840 to 1844, and of Liège from 1844 to 1846. He headed a Liberal government from 1852 to 1855 as the ninth Prime Minister. In 1863 he became the first mayor of Auderghem.

Holy Living and Holy Dying

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His term as prime minister is notable for seeing the departure of the Belgian United Nations Command (BUNC) to fight in the Korean War (1950–1953).

He was the last Christian Democrat prime minister from Wallonia.

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King Albert Medal

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Lament of dying man

Lament of dying man (Polish: Skarga umierającego) is an anonymous medieval Polish poem dating from the year 1463. The text represents the eschatological literature popular in High Middle Ages and describes torments a sinful moribund has facing his approaching death. His sufferings are the ones ascribed by Ars moriendi to a person on his deathbed. Having confessed his sins, the moribund receives divine consolation and feels ready to call a priest, who would provide him last rites.

Master E. S.

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Political Prisoner's Medal 1914–1918

The Political Prisoner's Medal 1914–1918 (Dutch: Medaille van de Politieke Gevangene 1914–1918 French: Médaille du Prisonnier Politique 1914–1918) was a Belgian medal established by royal decree on 26 December 1930 and awarded to Belgian civilians who were detained for a minimum of one month by the Germans during the First World War following an act of courage or devotion towards the Allies' cause.Recipients of this medal automatically received the 1914–1918 Commemorative War Medal and the Inter-Allied Victory Medal 1914–1918.

Prosper Poullet

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A successful politician, Poullet was a member of the Catholic Party and sat in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. He frequently held ministerial office between 1911 and 1934, holding the Arts and Science portfolio from 1911 to 1918, Railways and Posts from 1919 to 1920, Interior Minister in 1924–1925 and 1932–1934, Economic affairs in 1925, Justice in 1925–1926 and War in 1926. He served as the 26th Prime Minister of Belgium in 1925–1926 and was named an honorary Minister of State on leaving office.

Tyrants and Wraiths

Tyrants and Wraiths is an EP by Austrian melodic death metal band Hollenthon, released by Napalm Records in 2009. It features bonus videos of "On the Wings of a Dove" and "Ars Moriendi" live at Graspop Metal Meeting.

Volunteer's Medal 1940–1945

The Volunteer's Medal 1940–1945 (French: "Médaille du Volontaire 1940–1945", Dutch: "Medaille van de Oorlogsvrijwilliger 1940–1945") was a Belgian war medal established by royal decree of the Regent on 16 February 1945 and awarded to Belgian and foreign civilians who voluntarily enlisted in the Belgian Armed Forces during the Second World War. The medal could also be awarded to volunteers serving in the Belgian units of the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy or British merchant navy.

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Édouard Eugène François Descamps (1847–1933), also known as Baron Descamps, was a Belgian jurist and politician who was known as a contributor to international law.

Death and mortality in art

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