The series of wood carvings by Hans Holbein were created sometime in the early 1500s. The most pronounced display is the appearance of "death" in a sort of compromise with the physician. No longer were images depicting the finality and predetermination of death's arrival. There appears to be room for a negotiation of sorts as a bag of "humors" is provided as a consultation facilitated by death between the patient and the physician.
There are interpretations of the image that suggest "death" is mocking the physician and that he has already claimed the patient to his care. What I find most compelling is that the physician has now been pulled into the exchange and the art of the era focuses on the interplay between inevitability of death and the tenuous emerging role of the physician in the negotiation. Before these images emerged, the grim reaper lurked in the shadows observing the dying in the absence of medical counsel.
(1) the fifteenth-century "dance of the dead";
(2) the Renaissance dance at the bidding of the skeleton, the so-called "Dance of Death";
(3) the bedroom scene of the aging lecher under the Ancien Régime;
(4) the nineteenth-century doctor in his struggle against the roaming phantoms of consumption and pestilence;
(5) the mid-twentieth-century doctor who steps between the patient and his death; and
(6) death under intensive hospital care. At each stage of its evolution the image of natural death has elicited a new set of responses that increasingly acquired a medical character.
The history of natural death is the history of the medicalization of the struggle against death.