Art Spotlight: Böcklin's Self-portrait with Death


"Self-portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle" Fine Art Images/Heritage/Getty

Our podcast episode "The Problem of Immortality" explores the manner in which the terror of death and the quest for immortality define every facet of our lives. As such, I thought Arnold Böcklin's "Self-portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle" served as an excellent cover image.

The 1872 painting captures both the painter's grasp for permanence through artistic endeavor, as well as the inexorable nature of death and its taunting hold on our lives. Böcklin frequently incorporated mythic symbols in his work, and so here we see the common medieval trope of Death and his fiddle.

Böcklin (1827 - 1901) became particularly obsessed by death following the death of his infant daughter Maria, influencing this painting as well as his most famous work, "Isle of the Dead."

"The Isle of the Dead" by Arnold Böcklin, 1883
Wikimedia Commons

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.