Death and the Maiden
Average: 5 (1 vote)
ddeveaux's picture


Death and the Maiden: a tale as old as time of a kiss so bad it literally kills you.

The pairing of Death and the Maiden was a common trope among Renaissance artists. Possibly one of the strangest odd couples ever. A woman thinks she's getting a kiss from her lover but surprise! It’s Death. You’re dead now. The grim reaper was clearly never good at pranks.

If there was a scale of romantic paintings, this would sit on the opposite end from The Kiss. Yet our artist Baldung loved this theme so much that this is just one of many iterations he created.

For instance, The Knight, the Young Girl, and Death at first glance looks like a woman riding off to a happily ever after with Prince charming. But, upon closer inspection, you see that she’s being pulled off the horse by Death. A grim fairytale ending indeed. This piece adds the horrifying touch of the woman being forced to stand on her own tombstone.

The theme of Death and the Maiden is rooted as far back as the Hades’ abduction of Persephone in Greek mythology. This painting also invokes the Kiss of Death trope that dates back to the Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in the bible. The morbid fascination of watching a beautiful woman cut down in her prime is a trope that has evolved over time. The Kiss of Death trope still exists today, mostly in vampire love stories, but a modern deviation of Death and the Maiden evolved into the slasher film trope Death by Sex.

The trope of Death by Sex is similar to Death and the Maiden in that a young, beautiful woman suffers a horrific, sudden death, but they differ on how the victim is chosen. Death and the Maiden focused on the idea of the young woman being pure and that purity intensifies the brutality of her sudden death. Death by Sex instead is a young woman dooming herself to die because she chose to have sex. To put it bluntly, it’s slut-shaming meets murder. Slasher films choose to keep the virgin female alive - at least most of the time.

The main thing the tropes have in common is nudity. I think artists who utilized the Death and the Maiden theme often used it as an excuse to paint a naked woman. In slasher films, typically the young woman who dies is partially nude as fan-service before being killed as well.



  1. "Death and the Maiden." Web Gallery of Art. Accessed December 15, 2018. /html_m/b/baldung/1/061death.html.
  2. "Death by Sex." TV Tropes. Accessed December 17, 2018. .php/Main/DeathBySex.
  3. "Kiss of Death." TV Tropes. Accessed December 17, 2018. .php/Main/KissOfDeath.
  4. Pollefeys, Patrick. "Feune Fille Et La." Hans Holbein: Dance of Death. Accessed December 16, 2018.
  5. "The High Renaissance & Mannerisms: Hans Baldung." History of Art: History of Photography. Accessed December 15, 2018.