The Garden of Death

Simberg, Hugo

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Fresco

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Mar-22-2007
  • Last revised: May-17-2007


Three skeletons in black robes are busy in the task of watering and taking care of various plants. The skeleton in the foreground holds a green watering can, faces to the left, and walks behind a wooden construction of some sort. Behind him another skeleton clutches a stalk of blue flowers to his chest. In the background, the third skeleton faces away from us, apparently busy with some task at hand.

The flowers in the picture are odd and unlike flowers found in life. Their shapes range from spiky to round, their colors from white to black. In the distance a path leads to the Garden of Death through green woodland.


Painted by Hugo Simberg in 1904, The Garden of Death ornaments a gallery wall of Tampere Cathedral in Finland. Simberg, one of the most well-known and celebrated Finnish symbolists, decorated the wall of the cathedral’s gallery with his painting, designed six of its seven stained glass windows, and painted two frescos, one of which is The Garden of Death.

The interesting juxtaposition of skeletons, symbols of horror and death, and flowers, symbols of calmness and life, might confound a viewer. Is this work of art equating death with happiness? Why do these skeletons take such care of strange flowers?

According to Simberg, the flowers represent people’s souls, the skeletons are aids to Death, and the Garden of Death is a purgatory of sorts for souls waiting for entrance into heaven (see "The History, Art and Architecture of Tampere Cathedral" by Elisa Valtonen at . This artwork invites the viewer to consider the afterlife, to take comfort in his or her own passing, and to not fear what happens after the body fails to function.


The online version of this fresco shows paper representations created in 1896 and 1897, at the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki. The alternate source online shows a larger image and is from the research paper written by student, Elisa Valtonen.

Primary Source

Tampere Cathedral, Tampere, Finland