R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Arnold Böcklin - Isle of the Dead: Third version, 1883

Throughout his lifetime Swiss Symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin produced five versions is his Isle of the Dead.  For today's feature I'm sharing his third, simply because I find it to possess the most appealing palette of colors.  Böcklin never provided an explanation for this scene, wisely leaving his mysterious painting open for interpretation.  As cliché as it might sound, sometimes a work is best left to speak for itself.   An artist might by chance include an intriguing detail without offering it any serious consideration.  If he keeps mum about it, then he allows that detail to possibly take on a significant meaning for the viewer instead of spoiling all the fun with a clarification otherwise.  That's how I feel about the rocks, vegetation and other variables found throughout Isle of the Dead.

From what we observe here, an oarsman, presumably Charon, is delivering a white casket to the fabled island.  The boat appears to be led by a shrouded figure in white, whose identity is a complete mystery to us.  Might this figure be death himself?  Is this island his domain?  I love those angular catacomb structures protruding out from the rocks, as if they are in the process of being claimed by the savage earth.  Note that those structures are the same shade of white as our shrouded friend, perhaps correlating the two.  And the shape of our shrouded figure, standing clearly in the sunlight, is curiously complimented by that of the steep rock to the right of island, cast in shadow as if to signify some sort of duality.  Who knows.  Maybe Böcklin only intended this rock to level out his composition.

Found nestled within this shield of barren rock we see a small grouping of Cyprus trees, traditionally used to represent death.  Perhaps Böcklin added the intense light projecting over his tree tops as a way to symbolize the new beginning to be found in the underworld.  How grandiose!  Or maybe he just thought said light would aid the viewer's eye toward his focal area.  I guess we'll never know, but then again, at least we're at no short loss to speculate. 


Tags: art for the month of june
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