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Creatures of Death

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The most popular representations of death have been the skeleton and the rotting corpse. While the decomposing body function is to scare, the skeleton is more allegorical. The movement to personify Death was gradual; it was only by the onset of the sixteenth century, when the well-known painter Hans Holbein der Jüngere produced his own set of woodcuts, that the familiar robed skeleton was in place as an identity. Having a single, universal Death is a suitable extension of the idea of death coming to all, no matter of rank.

Before, skeletons were used more as skeletons of the dead than a representation of Death. The use of skeletons was in some way counterbalancing the possible criticism towards very sumptuous and expensive monuments.

Sometimes, the skeleton holds a clepsydra (or hour-glass, a wasp-waisted reversible glass with two bulbs containing enough sand to take a definite time in passing from upper to lower bulb) to remind us of the brevity and vanity of life.

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