The Columbian Exchange was great for the Europeans – they received new, nutritient-dense foods, new land, and new people to enslave and abuse.
It wasn’t so great for the Native Americans, who were killed off by the Europeans. They were killed off by a triad of things: squalid working conditions in enslavement, fighting against the Europeans (who had superior war technology), and, most of all, disease.
The native population of the Americas, prior to 1492, is usually estimated to have been around 50 million people. After European influence (around 1650), the native population had been reduced to less than 6 million. Such a high fatality rate leads into our long-awaited final horseman of the Apocalypse: Death.
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
— Revelation 6:7-8
After war, after pestilence, after famine, comes death. Thus, I feel it’s only natural to write about Death after having already covered the other 3. Of course, to the reader (Mark?), this will be the first post of the four, as my blog is organized chronologically, with the most recent post at the top.
As always, the traditional Grim Reaper motif is prominent in this design, with the reaping scythe making him the most “authentic” reaper of the 4. In the Book of Revelation, Death and his horse are described as being “pale”. No particular color is attributed to them – in Kaneko’s art here, he decided to make the horse a pale gray, while Death himself has the reaper’s signature skull-face and cloak, matching the other Horsemen in the set. Anyways, Death being described as “pale” is probably due to how the “deathly pallor” that sets in postmortem due to lack of blood circulation.
Kaneko’s Death has a very serious pose. He sits tall and imposing and faces forward, as if slowly approaching the viewer. After all, death is something that affects us all. No matter what we do, we’ll all end up dying someday, which is what the phrase “momento mori” suggests. In his hands, Death holds a reaping scythe. This is significant, as he is the harvester of souls. Thus, a farming scythe, as he is depicted with, is much more of a suitable symbol for him than a war scythe, which is mounted on the pole such that the blade points up, like a spear.
Honestly, I don’t have much more to say here. Let’s enjoy this moment of death, shall we?