Thursday, September 1, 2016

ars moriendi: the xylography of death


Ars Moriendi (15th Century)

the wood block is prepared as a relief matrix, which means the areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level. the block was cut along the grain of the wood. it is only necessary to ink the block and bring it into firm and even contact with the paper or cloth to achieve an acceptable print. the content would, of course, print "in reverse" or mirror-image, a further complication when text was involved. the art of carving the woodcut is known as xylography, a term is rarely used in english.

the sample above is Ars Moriendi (1415-1450), which offers advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death and. how to "die well," according to christian precepts of the late middle ages. see this in the context of the horrors of the Black Death, 60 years earlier and consequent social upheavals of the 15th century. Ars Moriendi was extremely popular, translated into most european languages: the first in a western literary tradition of guides to death and dying.

today we brush death under the carpet and the dying off to the hospital. our society "designs" death as an unfortunate condition & treated as "geriatric apartheid." the old with the the old in a world of administrative care, nurses, hospices and the smell of clorox.