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Vanitas - Death in Books

Opening of the temporary exhibition in the vault of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library in Leipzig at 19:00 on 16 May 2013

Press release:  8.5.2013

Scheduled to coincide with this year's Wave-Gotik-Treffen, the largest meeting of the "black scene" in Europe, an exhibition entitled "Vanitas - Death in Books" is being displayed at the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library.

The exhibition will be opened at 19:00 on 16 May.

Graphic artists, poets and book artists have created images of death throughout the ages. Arousing a range of responses extending from a fear of death to a yearning for it, the end of our earthly existence has always posed a challenge for artists and served as a blank screen onto which the core questions of life have been projected.

Who is now aware that skulls used to be painted on coffee cups in the early 19th century? Or that a crocodile was once regarded as a symbol of undying love? Or that a Berlin priest used a pair of scissors to cut a silhouette as a means of helping him come to terms with the loss of his brother who had fallen in the First World War? Or that in 1663 popular curiosity in the funeral of a prince was satisfied by the creation of a vast copperplate engraving which depicted the very long funeral procession in minute detail? Or that cartoonists came up with original ways of representing death - such as using empty panels?

Books, art works, ex-libris and cultural history objects from the collections of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library offer an insight into the various - and, from the present day perspective, sometimes unusual - aspects of death. The figurations of death appear in dances of death, emblem books, baroque vanitas pictures, anatomy books, in the romantic cult surrounding places of burial or even in children's books. They are witnesses of wars, diseases or revolutions, are allegories of infinity, are dark messengers from the realm of the subconscious, are grotesque or macabre expressions of human fears. From early dances of death to fantasy graphic art in present-day comics, the symbolism of skulls, skeletons, coffins, graves, withered flowers or waning candles remains a cultural constant.

Vanitas – Death in books
Exhibition in the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library in Leipzig from 17 May to 22 September 2013.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 - 18:00, Thursday 10:00 - 20:00, national holidays (except Mondays) 10:00 - 18:00
Free admission.

Opening ceremony at 19:00 on 16 May 2013
Welcome: Michael Fernau, Director of the German National Library in Leipzig
Introduction: Dr. Stephanie Jacobs, Head of the German Museum of Books and Writing
"Tod und Tanz": Dr. Uli Wunderlich, President of Europäische Totentanz-Vereinigung e. V.
Music: Ensemble L‘Arabesque

The book has shaped our culture and civilisation like no other medium. For centuries our knowledge about the world and its peoples has been stored in books. The task of the Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum of the German National Library is to collect, exhibit and process evidence of book and media history. Founded in 1884 as the Deutsches Buchgewerbemuseum (German Book Trade Museum), it is the oldest museum in the world in the field of book culture, and also one of the most important with regard to the scope and quality of its stocks.

The main focus is on the book and its myriad aspects: as an ingenious invention and as the product of economic and technical processes, as a social icon and the most important vehicle of culture, as a work of art and as a censored and burned repository of ideas.

Serving as a showcase for the German National Library, the museum's new permanent exhibition provides an insight into 5000 years of media history. Entitled "Signs - Books - Networks: From Cuneiform to Binary Code", it spans everything from the rise of early writing systems via bookprinting with movable type through to the digital online world, and also offers a light-hearted overview of the future of the information society.

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