In the Middle Ages, hope mingled with fear concerning death and the afterlife, providing stirring subjects for manuscript illumination. Depictions of souls in paradise, the rewards of the blessed, and God’s mercy reassured Christian audiences, while sometimes horrific illustrations of funerals, demons, and the punishment of the wicked prompted the pious to repent for their sins. At the core of visual devotion stood images of the crucified Christ, promising resurrection and eternal salvation.
In Denise Poncher before a Vision of Death, the young owner of the manuscript is shown kneeling with her prayer book before a terrifying spectacle: the walking corpse of Death and three of his victims. The image likely served to remind the viewer that Death could arrive at any time and that prayer could prepare one’s soul.