Last June, the National Museum of Prague opened an extraordinary series of exhibitions under the common theme of DEATH. The cycle began at the Czech Museum of Music with the exhibition “Godmother Death,” named after the famous Czech opera by Rudolf Karel (1880-1945). This exhibit shows Death as a source for artistic inspiration for Czech artists in such fields as handicraft, music, drama, literature, cinematography, folk arts and the fine arts from the Middle Ages to present times.
To see all the exhibited items, visitors need to enter through a long row of small rooms and narrow corridors, illuminated here and there with only a dim, white light, which creates an atmosphere of conciliation and consolidation. Though there is some kind of chronology in the arrangement of the pieces, from approximately the 12th-13th centuries until the beginning of the 21st century, rooms are mostly divided into sub-themes.
Each room represents one or more topics such as: the Dance of Death, Memento Mori, Wars and Epidemics, Apocalypse, Requiem, Eternity and more. The number of items presented and their variety are truly impressive: books and music texts, articles of daily use, jewellery and talismans, photos and postcards, illustrations and reproductions of wall paintings are used to elaborate each of the themes. In each room there are also musical and film clips, informational panels and some rooms have animated pictures. This doesn’t allow visitors to get bored and involves them into some activity, which makes the exhibition partially interactive.
Especially for this exhibition, the contemporary artist Martina Spinkova created a series of six illustrations “Doteky smrti” (Touches of Death). All of the works are made in ink and pastel and show us a wide variety of black and grey shades which create a certain atmosphere of the imminence of Death. In an interview, Spinkova mentioned that she was inspired by opera and this is why she devoted the illustrations to one of each – The Kiss, La Traviata, Rusalka, Don Giovanni, Her Stepdaughter, and Rigoletto. And though Spinkova’s works might be of a special interest to opera lovers, other visitors can also find a deep sense in parallels between the name of each work and the image depicted.
In the last room there are two remarkable installations. The first one is a projection on the ceiling of the room, which depicts the tops of the trees, observed from below as if the person is lying on the ground looking into the sky. The second one is a huge mirror, half covered with a white cloth and with a black ribbon in the corner of it, in which any visitor can see themselves. The exhibition’s exit leads to a large hall lit with daylight, which probably makes the long way through the dark corridors to the last room an allegory of a person’s life.
This deep, philosophical theme of Death gives us a space for thinking. We can analyze and learn something tracing the changes of society’s understanding of Death throughout history. We can also try to understand our own feelings and emotions regarding this topic. And as the purpose of every exhibition is not only to provide visitors with information but also to give some ideas for deliberation, raise emotions and create a general interest towards the subject, we can consider the exhibition “Godmother Death” a great success.