Figure on right is BR59.32, figure on left is BR59.33. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This statuette depicting a decomposing cadaver armed with a bow and arrows (now lost) is an example of the type of “death figure” produced since the mid-16th century that served to remind the viewer of the transience of life and earthly pleasures. The snakes emerging from the cadaver’s muscles and skin, signifying the temptation of Adam and Eve, and the frogs—symbols of evil spirits—squatting inside the rib cage and on the sculpture’s base emphatically suggest the cadaver’s physical and spiritual deterioration.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Unidentified Artist
Death with Left Hand Raised
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, Germany, Upper Rhine
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Linden wood
25.4 × 14 × 7.5 cm (10 × 5 1/2 × 2 15/16 in.)
[Art dealer, Germany, sold]; [to M. Glueckselig & Son, New York, NY (?-1959), sold]; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1959.

According to a letter from Frederick Glueckselig of M. Glueckselig & Son to Charles L. Kuhn at the Busch-Reisinger Museum dated April 28, 1959, Mr. Glueckselig purchased both BR59.32 and BR59.33 from a well-known German art dealer without a detailed provenance history. Mr. Glueckselig did not disclose the name of the German art dealer and merely specified that the dealer had recently passed away.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Theodor Müller, "Frühe Beispiele der Retrospektive in der deutschen Plastik", Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse (Munich, Germany, 1961), no. 1, pp. 20-22

Charles L. Kuhn, German and Netherlandish Sculpture, 1280-1800, the Harvard Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1965), p. 25-26, cat. no. 54 p. 100 [as Personification of Death], under cat. no. 55 pp. 101-103, repr. as pls. XLVIII and XLIX

Oliver Andrews, Living Materials: A Sculptor's Handbook, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA, 1983), p. 113, pl. 7.6

Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 219

Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 92, repr.

Remember That You Will Die: Death Across Cultures, brochure, Rubin Museum of Art (New York, NY, 2010), p. 1, repr. as fig. 1

Exhibition History

Objects for a Kunstkammer: Early European Collecting, 1550-1700, Harvard University Art Museums, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 12/10/2005 - 11/19/2006

Remember You Will Die: Death Across Cultures, Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 03/19/2010 - 08/09/2010

Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2540 Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 04/20/2017 - 02/14/2018

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/07/2016 - 05/08/2016; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/27/2022 - 01/01/2023

Adam and Eve, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/01/2018 - 01/06/2019

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Collection Highlights

Related Works

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