The Mystery of Life

  • George Grey Barnard, The Mystery of Life, modeled 1895-1897, marble relief, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.8.394

Luce Center Label

The Mystery of Life is one of several allegorical images of Life and Death from an urn that George Grey Barnard created to hold the ashes of the Metropolitan Opera conductor Anton Seidl. The sculptor conceived of a work that would represent both life and death. The veiled figure of Death holds the egg or embryo of life, and underneath is a poppy that refers to sleep and a lily that symbolizes resurrection. Barnard’s description of the piece reflects late nineteenth-century attitudes about the “nature” of men and women. The man, who struggles to provide for his family, resists death. The woman, however, through her role as a mother, surrenders to the inevitable as a natural part of the cycle of life.

The Mystery of Life
modeled 1895-1897
21 1/4 x 14 1/8 x 9 1/2 in. (54.0 x 35.8 x 24.1 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of John Gellatly

Mediums Description
marble relief
  • Allegory – death
  • Allegory – life
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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