Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Fillippo Contesi on Les Amants Trépassés


A man and a woman, both with corpse-like physique, covered in flies, bugs and snakes entering open wounds.

This is entry #4 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

Philosopher: Filippo Contesi (York)

Artwork: Anon. (Southern Germany), Les Amants Trépassés, ca 1470 Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, Strasbourg. The piece that originally accompanied this is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art: see here)

Words: Originally part of a memento mori ensemble, this is not simply a symbolic reminder of the transience of earthly things. The hideousness of the scene turns into an aesthetically intriguing depiction of something fantastic. True to its subject, the painting transports its audience to an other-world, where the two lovers are neither dead nor alive, and the frogs and snakes over their bodies call to mind the mythological creatures described in Medieval bestiaries. And yet, alongside the visual allure of this other world, the viewer also feels a mild pang of disgust that tastes very much of her own world.

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