Writing by Liv Bertani-Green.
Damien Hirst’s artwork For the Love of God (2007) shows a human skull encrusted in diamonds – with a cluster of larger diamonds on the skull’s forehead. To me, this skull is a testament to the extent of human greed. Hirst encrusting a skeleton with diamonds shows how deep to our core greed exists – all the way to the bone. When one peels back all the other layers of what it means to be human perhaps beneath it all, persevering, is greed.
Simultaneously, For the Love of God highlights the eternity of human greed. The imagery of the skull encrusted with diamonds creates a haunting allusion to a dead person surrounded by all their cherished material possessions. The connotations of death paired with indestructible diamonds, emphasises how human greed extends even past death into the afterlife. Throughout the course of history people have wanted to take their wealth, opulence and power with them into the afterlife. An example of this is the tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang who was buried with an entire life-size terracotta army. The army consisted of 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. This is how greedy the emperor was for power and status in the afterlife.
However, displays of greed in relation to the afterlife are not reserved for history only – they exist in the present day as well. For example, scientologists argue that people are immortal spiritual beings that go from inhabiting one earthly body to another. This could be seen as a display of greed as they are not satisfied with living one life but crave to live a human life on Earth time and time again.
The title, For the Love of God, is sarcastic - perhaps Hirst is saying that human greed can be masqueraded as an act of service for God. For example, St Mark's Cathedral in Venice is an extravagant display of opulence and power by the Venetian state and church. The interior walls are decorated with rare marbles, precious stones, gold-ground mosaics depicting saints, prophets and biblical scenes. Additionally, plundered artefacts from Constantinople are used which shows the extent of the state and church’s greed. However, all of this greed was excused and disguised as a celebration of God’s love.
Lastly, the artwork serves as a warning – that our greed will be the death of us. We humans are slowly plundering and destroying the Earth we live on. Our infinite greed has turned us into parasites destined to destroy our planet and with that ourselves. The artwork evokes imagery of the human skeleton which emphasises our fragility – in contrast to diamonds which are nearly indestructible. This shows how we humans are mortal, fragile beings whose intrinsic, destructive greed lives on forever. For the love of God can we not stop?