Dublin Death Studies
Edited By Philip Cottrell and Wolfgang Marx
The essays incorporated into this volume share an ambitious interest in investigating death
as an individual, social and metaphorical phenomenon that may be exemplified by themes
involving burial rituals, identity, and commemoration. The disciplines represented are as
diverse as art history, classics, history, music, languages and literatures, and the approaches
taken reflect various aspects of contemporary death studies. These include the fear of death,
the role of death in shaping human identity, the ‘taming’ of death through ritual or aesthetic
sublimation, and the utilization of death – particularly dead bodies – to manipulate social
and political ends.
The topics covered include the exhumation and reburial of Cardinal John Henry Newman;
the funerary monument of John Donne in his shroud; the funeral of Joseph Stalin;
the theme of mutilation and non-burial of the corpse in Homer’s Iliad; the individual’s
encounter with death in the work of the German Philosopher Josef Pieper; the Requiem
by the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford; the imagery of death in Giovanni Verga’s
novel Mastro-don Gesualdo, and the changing attitudes toward death in the writings of
2 | John Donne, Undone, Redone: the John Donne Monument Reconsidered.
2 | John Donne, Undone, Redone: the John Donne Monument Reconsidered1
Nicholas Stone’s effigy of John Donne (1572-1631) in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (figs. 2.1 and 2.2) is a strange and elegant example of seventeenth-century English tomb sculpture. Although upright, Donne appears enveloped in a body-hugging burial shroud gathered into two frilly ruffs at the head and feet. Only the face, with its shuttered eyelids, raffish beard, and benign, half-smiling expression, manages to breach this unsettling cocoon. The clean, moist appearance of the drapery and the softly-nuanced modelling of the features testify to Stone’s position as the finest sculptor of the English Baroque.2 But as the figure totters out of its niche, precariously balanced on the lip of a classical funerary urn, it inevitably recalls the outlandish attitudes of the busking ‘living statues’ which are now a mainstay of the busy high street – a not so glib analogy given that the dying Donne seems to have personally modelled for the monument, clad in his own winding sheet and standing on an urn-shaped box.
Surprisingly, only three writers – all Donne scholars – Nigel Foxell, Helen Gardner and, more recently, R.S. Peterson, have given serious, prolonged thought to the statue’s appearance and development. 3 Peterson in particular has compiled an impressively thorough analysis of the monument’s later history, and intends to publish more at the time of writing. With this in mind, the following essay merely wishes to offer some thoughts on the broader art-historical context of the statue, as a preface to further research. Its relationship to...
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