13 July 2021

The Kiss of Death

This astonishing sculpture forms part of Barcelona’s Poblenou Cemetery.  The Kiss of Death (El Petó de la Mort in Catalan and El beso de la muerte in Spanish) dates back to 1930. A winged skeleton bestows a kiss on the forehead of a handsome young man: is it ecstasy on his face or resignation? Little wonder the sculpture elicits strong and varying responses from whoever gazes upon it.

There is some debate to the sculptor responsible for this arresting – astonishing – work of art in white marble. It is attributed to Jaume Barba but it seems quite likely that it was created by Joan Fontbernat.  It is tucked away in the farthest corner of Poblenou Cemetery and it is often said to have inspired Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

Rather than depicting death as a winged angel the sculptor instead chose a skeleton. The eroticism of the kiss is hard to escape – youth welcomes death as a partner, decay, vitality, entropy combine.  The sculpture is at once romantic and horrifying. The eyes fix to it in a kind of compulsion of amatory abhorrence. It attracts and repels at once, the urge to touch combines with the desire to flee.

Below the sculpture the textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler is interred.  His words to the world, his message from beyond this mortal coil can still be read: His young heart is thus extinguished. The blood in his veins grows cold. And all strength has gone. Faith has been extolled by his fall into the arms of death. Amen.

First Image Flickr User Jenikilo