Artibus et Historiae no. 52 (XXVI)

2005, ISSN 0391-9064

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MOSHE BARASCH - The Departing Soul. The Long Life of a Medieval Creation

The essay deals with the iconography of departing soul. Although Egyptian and Greek art knew the motif of a soul, it was medieval culture which created iconography of a figure of the soul at the particular moment of leaving the body of a dying person. The author investigates medieval examples of this topic. Souls were always represented as anonymous, which may be explained in connection with some intellectual trends of the Middle Ages like Monopsychism. In the late Middle Ages and early modern age the motif of the departing soul was developed. Not only was the soul of the Virgin, or of a particularly venerated saint imagined as departing from the body but also the soul of every mortal human being, including the sinful. The other new feature is the focusing of interest and attention on the fate of the soul. The departure of the soul is fussed with the motif of the judgment of the soul. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Italian artists didn't create a unified image of the motif. Nevertheless, certain features recur in all representations — one is the anonymity of soul, another is its youthfulness. The late medieval images juxtaposed soul and body, the images made in the age of Mannerism and early Baroque detach the soul form its former dwelling place, the body, and show it on its way to the final destination, the heavens. The author shows how long-lived the medieval creation was.

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