Artwork Title: The Death of the Grave Digger - Artist Name: Carlos Schwabe

The Death of the Grave Digger

Carlos Schwabe, 1895

"I am struck by the intense sense of drama, within this image. Schwabe has used the positions of the human body to tell the story. Each pose contains a great deal of information.The tension depicted in the hands of the grave digger reveal that he has been caught off guard by this angel of death. However his face expresses acceptance, rather than horror. The pose of the angel is statuesque and emotionless, creating a greater feeling of inevitability. Her delicate stance reveals movements that are not sudden, there is a calm, peaceful nature to her approach. She holds a green light within one hand, symbolizing power, yet her other hand is empty. His time has come. Her dark wings reveal her purpose, before an act takes place. He has reached the winter of his life, and is surrounded by the white snow. The beautiful poses of the figures create such an interesting composition, which is then enhanced by her wings. The dark feathers create an oval structure around the two figures holding them together. Some of the tree branches follow the shape of the wings, whereas others are more vertical. Those branches subdue the scenery, making sure the tombstones are not too dominant within the composition. The focus is placed within the relationship, between the two figures. The story is within this connection. The contrast between black and white, creates a higher level of sharpness. The angel is bold and dominant, without the need for aggression. The symbolism within the image is a joy to explore, Schwabe has created a masterpiece. " [] His first wife was his model for angels and virgins, and "Death" in Death and the Grave Digger (1895) resembles her. [] The scene is within a graveyard covered with a thin layer of snow. The main visual is of an old gravedigger standing within a grave and looking up to an angel dressed in black. She holds a green light in her hand and it reflects on her neck. He holds his heart as he watches her, therefore the light signifies his soul the angel is taking. The gravedigger and angel clearly show death, but there is life surrounding them. In the forefront there are small buds growing out of the snowy ground and a tree branch cascades over them. In the background the graveyard looks calm and peaceful, the snow is untouched. Schwabe’s painting is clearly a part of the Symbolist movement. Many common Symbolist themes are present in this painting. Death is the major symbol and captures attention at first glance of the poem. Angels are another motif that is common to Symbolist work. The angel in this painting is representing death which is a unique technique at the time to connect death with angels and beauty. It is suggestive of ideas explored in a few of the Baudelaire poems that intertwine beauty with demise. The poses of the two main figures clearly show the emotions they feel. Understanding the emotions within is an essential part of Symbolism. The feeling of the painting is also heightened by the forefront being contrasted with the pure, calm snow behind. Carlos Schwabe was a Swiss-German Symbolist painter. This shows the effect that Symbolism had on the world. Schwabe studied for a time in France and developed his own sense of the Symbolist movement. In his painting he captures emotions through his powerful image. []
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