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Current time:0:00Total duration:2:59

Böcklin, Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle

Video transcript

usually when you look at her self-portrait you see an artist staring directly at himself in a mirror but in the self-portrait with death by Buckland he seems not so much to be looking as listening that menacing figure of death is not only playing the violin but seems to be whispering something in his ear he seems ecstatic we can see clearly a skull with all of its teeth it seems to be smiling demonically grinning I would say eater and rather excited we see that claw like have of bones that clutches the bow and the violin is being played but it's being played on a single remaining string as if Bach lien has only that one string to know it seems so final death knows he's won here or outlast the life of the artist and so there's something very self-conscious about the act of making a work of art and especially about making a self-portrait that sense of death is present in portraits generally not just in self portraits portraits can make the dead alive so I think often when we look at portraits we have a sense of going back in time of looking at someone who has lived but you're right it's certainly more poignant in self-portraits especially in the way that Buckland has collapsed the space here the personification of death and skeleton is so intimate it's so close you said whispering in his ear it's almost as if Buckland can literally feel his breath if there were such a thing the artist himself is very close to us his palate is half in our space and you see the raw paint it's a depiction of paint made of itself that speaks to the lie of painting the raw materials that make up this painting are made present made honest made honest that's right stripping away the veils of our life the veils of society the palette and the raw depiction of the paint is a kind of reminder of the essential buck lean is showing us both the flesh-and-blood representation of the artist of the man in the fashions of his day but then he also shows us the skeleton in a sense this essence what he will become the painting as a whole is beautifully manipulated to show us the illusion of these figures but then it's also laid bare the idea of man returning to dust from which he was created that's what I was reminded of when you talked about the materiality of the paint he's holding a rag under his thumb to wipe his brush to wipe his brush but the way the death wipes us all away there is this wonderful way in which the act of painting is echoed by the way in which death transforms us