This complex and remarkable allegory depicts the moral choice facing mankind. The figure of Man sits beneath a tree, hands folded in prayer, while a putto descends from above with the laurel crown and palm of Christian salvation. Flanking Man are the figures of Vita (Life) and Mors (Death). With her Bible and Crucifix, Vita represents the eternal life offered by the New Testament, while Mors is shown with the Tablets of the Law, suggesting that he represents the pre-Christian Old Testament. Yet the allegory does not just show Man torn between the Old Law and the New: in the foreground, allegorical figures representing Spiritus (the human spirit) and Charitas (Charity) struggle against personifications of Caro (carnal lust, decked out in a headdress of peacock feathers) and Mundum (the earthly world, with transient riches at her feet and a globe headdress). In the background, beyond Caro and Mundum, a ship founders in a gale, while beyond Spiritus and Charitas a lighthouse stands steadfast, offering a further hint at the prospects offered by each way of life.
Fig. 1. Johann Sadeler I, The choice between the Spirit and the Flesh, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.