Death is the termination of the biological functions that define a livingorganism. It refers both to a particular event
and to the condition that results thereby. The true nature of the
latter has, for millennia, been a central concern of the world's religious
traditions and of philosophical enquiry. Belief in some kind
of afterlife or rebirth is a
central aspect of many religious traditions. Within the scientific community, many suppose death to
terminate mind or consciousness. The
effect of physical death on any possible mind or soul remains for many an open question. Cognitive
science has yet to explain fully the origin and nature of
consciousness; any view about the existence or non-existence of consciousness
after death remains speculative.
Funerary art is any work of art forming or placed in a repository for the
remains of the dead. Tomb is a general term for the
repository, while grave
goods are objects—other than the primary human remains—which
have been placed inside. Such
objects may include the personal possessions of the deceased, or
objects specially created for the burial, or miniature versions of
things needed in an afterlife. Our knowledge of several cultures
is drawn largely from these sources.
Funerary art can serve many cultural functions, although
generally they are an aesthetic attempt to capture or express the
beliefs or emotions about the afterlife. It can play a role in burial
rites, serve as an article for use by the dead in the afterlife,
and celebrate the life and accomplishments of the dead, as part of
practices of ancestor
veneration. Funerary art can also function as a reminder of the
mortality of humankind, as an expression of cultural values and
roles, and help to propitiate the spirits of the dead, preventing
their unwelcome intrusion into the affairs of the living. Many
cultures have psychopomp figures, such as the Greek Hermes and Etruscan Charun, who help to conduct the
spirit of the dead into the afterlife.
Pride of the spirit is one of
the five temptations of the dying man, according to Ars moriendi.
Here, Demons tempt the dying man with crowns (a
medieval allegory to earthly pride) under
the disapproving gaze of Mary, Christ and God. Woodblock seven
(4a) of eleven, Netherlands, circa 1460.