In Voluptas Mors ( “Voluptuous Death”), a surrealistic portrait of Spanish artist Salvador Dalí, made in collaboration with photographer Philippe Halsman (1951). The image depicts Dalí posing beside a giant skull, a tableau vivant (or “living picture”) comprising seven nude female models. Halsman and Dali took three hours to arrange the models according to a sketch by Dalí. A version of In Voluptas Mors was used subtly in the poster for the film The Silence of The Lambs.
What at first may appear to be merely an example of memento mori (Latin for “remember (that you have) to die”) is actually a more complex fusion or interplay between notions of “sex” and “death”. The depiction draws upon the symbolic tradition of vanitas (from the Latin literally meaning “emptiness” or “insubstantial”), an artistic style which served as a reminder of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty or inevitability of death. What is unusual here is the incorporation of voluptas or voluptuousness (expressed through the female nudes — “Voluptas” being a character in Greek mythology, daughter of Eros and Psyche, and goddess of “sensual pleasure”) within the physical constitutive structure of the symbol of vanitas itself(the human skull). The image presents a fusion of eros (erotic or sexual love) and thanatos (death) in a single object (therefore, in voluptas mors — quite literally one finds “death in the voluptous”). One should also observe the counterposition between the figures of the male artist and female subjects which raises questions about their relationship to one another.[via androphilia]