Religious motifs : Overview. Search. About religious motifs

See also To die and go to heaven, Transformation


Life, death, resurrection, transformation, rebirth, soul, journey

Description of this motif:

The intermediate state is a crucial concept in the religious universe of Hans Christian Andersen's tales. Death is (in many tales, but not all) not just dying, but a transformation into another sphere of existence for the soul, a step on the way towards the site of the highest spirit, the kingdom of God. A famous and enlightning example is the tale of the little mermaid's uncompromising striving for the sun (light, spirit and immortality) and love, that brings her up from the depths of the sea to the world of the humans, and from there, surprisingly, to the intermediate state among the daughters of the air, in which the reader leaves the mermaid. From there she may in time rise into the kingdom of God, the element of the sun and of absolute light. Inger in hell in "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf" is also in an intermediate state. She also transforms and rises to the face of the earth and in the end of the tale into the light, "straight into the sun".

Andersen had the concept of the stepwise transformations of the soul in common with his close friend B.S. Ingemann. Both considered the soul immortal. They both rejected the thought of the soul's eternal condemnation in hell and thus disagreed with the Danish church at the time. In the opinion of Andersen and Ingemann the concept of eternal punishment in hell conflicted with the concept of God's infinite love and power.

Johan de Mylius has written about this issue in Forvandlingens pris ('The price of transformation', 2004), pp. 334-342.

Example :

Many probably pass this picture unnoticing, yet it contains the essence of poetry. It is Christ descending to Hell, but He is not surrounded by souls in torment; no, these are heathen. The painting is by the Florentine Agnolo Bronzino. The expression of the children's faces is most beautiful in their certainty that they are going to Heaven. Two little ones are already embracing each other; one stretches a hand out to a companion below, and points to himself as if to say, "I am going to Heaven!" All the older people stand around doubting, or hoping, or humbly bowing in prayer to the Lord Jesus.

Comment on this quote: The picture's Italian title is "Cristo al Limbo". According to "Bronzino was an Italian painter who was the outstanding artist of the Tuscan High Mannerist style. His real name was Agnolo di Cosimo. As court painter to the Medici in Florence, he produced large numbers of portraits as well as religious pictures. His style, which owed much to his teacher Jacopo da Pontormo, is cold, refined, aristocratic, and technically brilliant in its rendering of surface details and colors. His religious works, such as Christ in Limbo (1552, Santa Croce, Florence), show the typical Mannerist characteristics of elongated forms and crowded, angular compositions. His portraits, while highly stylized in their long lines and elegant poses, achieve a formalized stillness that is the ultimate refinement of Mannerism's usually hectic quality. A famous example is the cool, brilliant Portrait of a Young Man (circa 1535, Metropolitan Museum, New York City). His influence on later portraiture extended to the 19th-century French master J. A. D. Ingres."