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Elihu Vedder
The Cup of Death
1885 and 1911
oil
44 7/8 x 22 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans



Azrael, the angel of death, leads a young woman through the reeds to the dark river while holding a cup of poison to her mouth. Vedder intended to depict death in a gentle manner, as a painless immersion in dark waters guided by a merciful spirit. The painting was inspired by Vedder's design for an illustrated edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a collection of poems on the transience of life by the twelfth-century Persian astronomer. The image accompanied the verse: So when the Angel of the darker Drink At last shall find you by the river-brink, And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul Forth to your Lips to quaff---you shall not shrink.