Diamonds Are Forever
In 2007 British artist Damien Hirst shocked the art world with ‘For The Love Of God,‘ a human skull cast in platinum and encrusted with diamonds.
The title of the piece, whilst alluding to religious connotations, actually stemmed from his mother’s response to his art “For the love of God Damien, what are you going to do next?”
Hirst commented that every artwork that has interested him has been associated with death; and ‘For The Love Of God’ is no different reflects this intrigue. The piece itself carries a haunting fascination, fusing together notions of life and death, which can raise questions pertaining to religion and mortality. The inspiration behind Hirst’s iconic piece stems from his interest in art pertaining to death and from a character called Tharg in the comic book ‘2000 AD.’ Tharg had a mine stone in his forehead who controlled the universe and this aspect of the character can be seen with the large stone placed in the centre of the skull’s forehead.
The skull has been a symbol in art history for hundreds of years and was most pertinent in the art of Dutch Realism. During this art movement the Netherlands changed from Catholic to Protestant. The characteristics of the previous Baroque art movement were drastically different from the Protestant ethic of frugality and paintings that depicted realism and carried symbols that served as reminders of the temporary nature of life were favoured; such as the skull.
The most prominent example of this is probably Steenwyck’s ‘An Allegory Of The Vanities Of Human Life,’ paintings such as this became collectively known as ‘vanitas’ after the Bible quote ‘vanity of vanities…all is vanity.’ With the absence of large scale religious art in the Protestant Northern Countries, vanitas paintings were stark reminders of mortality and the certainty of death.
Hirst’s ‘For The Love Of God’ without doubt brings the temporary nature of life to the fore, yet it also contains strong contradictions of light and dark, life and death, positive and negative. The skull traditionally seen as a symbol of the perils of exuberance and opulence is pitted against its extreme opposite with diamonds, the epitome of excess and wealth – a far cry from the vanitas notion of frugality.