A rather interesting tourist attraction
I paid a visit to Sedlec Ossuary, Bohemia to the cemetery of the catholic Church of All Saints in Kutná Hora, Bohemia. On entering the crypt, I experienced the magnitude of being in such close proximity to the 40,000 human remains that have been beautifully and artistically laid to rest there. The bones were placed inside the ossuary after being moved from the graveyard outside, which used to be one of the most popular in Europe.
There are vast pyramids of bones in each corner and numerous gentle designs. I expected creepiness yet instead I experienced being spiritually moved by the sensitivity of thought, that the half-blind monk from the 15th century, put into this sublime skeletal orchestration. Being amongst all these old bones gave me a profound sense of connectedness to the fleeting impermanence of life. There was a calm peaceful atmosphere of respect and intrigue from the visitors.
Garlands of skulls
Seeing human remains used for creating art was a strong experience. Garlands of skulls fall softly from vaulted ceilings, tibias and femurs are favoured over any smaller bones and have pride of place enhancing the skull arrangements and pelvic petals. You can see how sacra line the base of the chalice constructions in the image here. There is a huge Schwarzenbergs’ coat of arms, which is embellished with a crow sculpted from smaller bones. There are glass cases with examples of skulls which have had severe head wounds from the weapons of the era. The skulls illustrate how the person has healed and not died of these massive holes in the skull. There is a huge central chandelier, which was away for restoration when I was there, which is one good reason for returning!
I have created four large oil paintings of pink skulls from this ossuary experience. I used a very limited pallet of just cadmium red, turquoise and white to make every colour. I deliberately made them all soft and pink looking, to help the subject of death be more palatable. The thing about skulls is that they are not just about representing death, to me they also signify life as well, because they are the structure that hold our brains in, thus keeping us alive.
When in the process of painting these skulls I found myself feeling like I was actually painting portraits. I was looking intensely at the individuality of each skull, following each furrow and hollow accurately, so as to pay my respects to the medieval person to whom it belonged.
I have named this series of paintings Afterlife. Some people believe that the afterlife brings reincarnation, some believe they will go to a better place and be reunited with loved ones, some believe in nothingness and some believe we will be rewarded or punished depending on our judgements. These paintings are my comment about being conscious of living life here and now.
However, it is kind of funny to think of the afterlife wishes of these long dead people and maybe one painting will finally end up being placed in a mansion to ultimately satisfy the deceased wishes for their afterlife!
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