Death and the maiden is an old memento mori featuring the figure of a young woman being ravished by death. Some are particularly gruesome (figure 1).

Figure 1. Hans Schwartz, Death and the Maiden. Augsburg, c. 1520. Boxwood. Bode-Museum, Berlin, acquired 1930, Figdor Collection, Kaiser-Friedrich-Museums-Verein Inv. M 187. Photo: Anagoria. CC-BY-3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

In Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, New York, is the Crocker monument, erected by Oliver C[romwell] and Clarissa Crocker for their son John (figure 2).

Figure 2. Crocker monument. Spring Forest Cemetery, Binghamton, N.Y. Photo: author.

JOHN K. CROCKER
SON OF
OLIVER C. AND
CLARISSA CROCKER
DIED OCT. 4, 1862,
AGED 23 YEARS

Figure 3. Crocker monument. Detail: death and the maiden relief. Spring Forest Cemetery, Binghamton, N.Y. Photo: author.

The Crockers, faced with a prematurely deceased child, were educated enough to choose an image of Death and the Maiden the stonecutter offered them (figure 3). The base with the relief appears to be of a different, more durable stone than the column and urn that sit atop it, for which we may be grateful, because the relief is astoundingly interesting.

Death, given angelic wings and the features of Father Time, approaches the unaware young woman from behind and grasps her hair. His scythe rests in the crook of his arm, his hourglass at his feet. The woman appears to read a book and hold some sort of object like a cup in her left hand. In her right is, I think, a branch with leaves, or just possibly flowers.

If pressed, I’d say she holds a cup meant to put us in mind of Christ’s resignation at his own death (Mt. 26:39, “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”), and the book would be the holy writ. Her resignation before death, because it is God’s will, not hers, and because she is a faithful Christian, means she will be hot-footing it to heaven, a winner in the Christian metaphysical contest. She thus fittingly holds a laurel branch of victory. She and her cup and book are supported by the lower section of a broken Corinthian column, the top part of which has tumbled forward to the ground off the three stepped circular dais on which she and death stand. The broken column signifies life cut off, and in this case, cut off too short.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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