For Christians, eternal faith in God and pious behavior during life leads to the soul’s resurrection into Heaven in the afterlife. Their beliefs emphasize forgiveness, repentance, and judgment after death. If people have properly repented their sins to God, their souls will spend eternity in Heaven, but those who have led a sinful life with no penitence may be sent to Hell. The objects displayed here represent these beliefs.
While the previous section deals with martyrs who attained sainthood in the afterlife, these works demonstrate that not all saints were martyred. For example, the Virgin Mary exemplified mercy and forgiveness and was canonized during the Middle Ages. Others have also been elevated to the status of sainthood after death because of their pious behavior and theological pursuits while living.
In these artworks, specific visual symbols have been used to represent Christian beliefs, and such symbols were also used in association with death. For example, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, an angel and a demon battling over the deceased’s soul (shown as a naked child) represented judgment after death. Biblical stories were included to remind viewers of proper behavior. Non-Biblical imagery included depictions of deathbed scenes, burial practices, and death (represented by a decayed corpse) confronting the living.
Christians believe that, after the physical body dies, the place where the soul spends eternity is determined by life on earth. The reminder of death thus dictates behavior. These objects were meant to remind Christian viewers of death’s inevitability and the necessity for conducting oneself accordingly.