THE HAUNTING KISS OF DEATH AT BARCELONA’S POBLENOU CEMETERY
Venturing around Poblenou Cemetery, you’ll find a never-ending offering of beautiful tombstones, mausoleums, crypts, sculptures, niches, and more. It may be far smaller than the Montjuïc Cemetery, but it is no less impactful.
As you make your way to the back right section, you’re sure to be frozen in your tracks by the cemetery’s most famous sculpture: El Petó de la Mort or “The Kiss of Death.”
The marble sculpture is so realistic that the sight of it is chilling. It depicts a young man, on his knees, in the arms of a winged skeleton, who is kissing the man’s temple. The skeleton, which represents the Angel of Death, leans over the man, supporting his body with his right arm and resting his left hand on the man’s arm. The man’s eyes are closed, his head tilted back and his mouth slightly open. His arms fall meekly at his sides, and his hands are open, palms up, and touching the ground. The attention to detail is evident in every wrinkle, muscle, joint and bone.
If the actors here were any different, you might view the scene as a loving embrace. How you interpret the man’s expression and posture is up to you, but it appears he is either peacefully accepting his fate or unsuccessfully fighting it.
Upon closer inspection, you will find an inscription chiseled on the stone base of the sculpture. It is a poem by the Catalan poet Jacint Verdaguer, and it suits the depiction perfectly. It reads:
Mes son cor jovenívol no pot més.
En ses venes la sanch s’atura y glaça.
Y l’esma ja perduda, la fe abraça,
sentint-se caure de la mort al bes.But his youthful heart can no more.
In his veins, the blood stops and freezes.
His spirit now lost, faith embraces him,
And he feels himself fall from death’s kiss.
In 1930, the Llaudets, an important Barcelonian family of textile manufacturers, lost their young, full-of-life son to a disease. Grief-stricken, Josep Llaudet i Soler, the father, went to the workshop of Jaume Barba, a marble carver and sculptor, to order a sculpture for the boy’s grave. The request was that the work represent the Verdaguer poem, cited above, and be inscribed on the piece. The result was a perfect, macabre embodiment of that poem.
It is not officially known who made the final design for the sculpture, but Barba, who at the time was about 70 years old, signed the sculpture with his name on one of the octagonal pedestal’s sides. It is postulated that, due to Barba’s advanced age, his son-in-law, Joan Fontbernat Paituví, who was the most skilled sculptor in Barba’s studio, is responsible for the work. Imagining the work that this project must have entailed, it seems more likely that Fontbernat is its creator.
Whoever the author of this hauntingly breathtaking carving is, perhaps the slight shroud of mystery would have their approval. It adds to the aura of mystique that saturates the area around which Death seems frighteningly, quietly, and perhaps even lovingly, present.
“KISS OF DEATH” FUN FACTS
- It is said that the sculpture was the inspiration for Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”
- The illustrator Carlos Ruiz Gallardo was inspired by the sculpture when designing for a collection of stories by Edgar Allen Poe; see the second illustration of “The Oval Portrait.”
- Andreu Martín i Alfonso López used a drawing of “The Kiss of Death” for the cover of their 2011 comic “Máxima Discreción.“
HAPPY HALLOWEEN, ALL SAINTS’ DAY, AND DAY OF THE DEAD!
We hope you all enjoyed the story and that, if you partake in any festivities, you have a nice, safe holiday weekend!
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By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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