NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA–At the New Orleans Museum of Art, there so many beautiful pieces of art that are not only breathtaking, but that can also teach you about the moment that we do indeed take our last breath.
Long after the humans have gone home and it’s the museum’s after hours, nothing remains but the soulless wondering gazes of portraits. Tracy E. Kennan is the Curator of Education at NOMA and says that part of the reason that some paintings’ eyes follow you around the room is because the artists did such a great job with attention to detail. If the eyes follow you, it’s the sign of a good job.
However, there are paintings that do carry a darker theme. Perhaps the most macabre work of art is titled: Death Comes to the Banquet Table by the Florentine painter, Giovanni Martinelli.
Kennan, says while describing the painting, “this could be a wedding feast and sometimes we might identify the highlighted women in the middle as the bride. The lady in green pointing, draws the attention onto her.. but let your eyes wonder on the whole canvas and you might be treated to a lot of details that you might miss.”
For such a decadent and intimate gathering depicted, everyone in the painting appears interrupted in the most frightening way. Hidden in the upper right hand corner is an animated skeletal figure that has come uninvited.
“This is in the 17th century, so it’s in the Baroque period and the 30-year’s-war has been going, along with frequent bouts of the bubonic plague. Death abounds between war and illness. This paiting is a way to personify and objectify something that you can’t see but that we all must face.”
The question that arises naturally from NOMA’s guests as well as the people within the painting itself, is who has death come to collect? Kennan has a suspicion of who the unlucky person might be saying, “if you look in the upper left hand corner, there’s sort of an older guy who looks like he is creeping away. He’s not quite as well dressed as the others, but you never know with death. It can come for anyone.”
Martinelli was known by many for having depicted death in his paintings. Death Comes to the Banquet Table is an example of a Memento mori, or a reminder that life is nothing but borrowed time.