Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901)
Island of the Dead
Oil on canvas
Museum fur Bildende Kunste (Leipzig, Germany)
This painting was remade five times between the years 1880-86, and so five different versions exist. The initial impulse for the picture was a request made by Marie Berna, whose husband had died, for Böcklin to depict her bereavement thematically.
Island of the Dead invites contemplation on the mystery of what lies beyond death. The boatman is reminiscent of Charon and the waters bring to mind the ancient river Styx, across which Greeks believed the souls of their dead traveled to Hades.
The stones and trees make for an interesting comparison – both are symbols of the natural world, the former dead and cold, the latter alive yet silent. The apparent lack of human life on the island is made poignant by the inferable knowledge that once upon a time, the stone ruins must have housed living men. Now, however, like death, the island is an isolated, isolating, and lonesome place.