At the Crossroads
At the Crossroads is a simple and homely meditation on the conflicting opportunities of life and the consequences of our choices. Simberg did not divide people into good and bad, nor deem them to be guilty or innocent, yet he had a profound understanding that we must bear responsibility for our actions. The angel and the devil are both trying to influence the choice of the hesitant figure in the centre. The angel’s heavenly powers are limited on earth – even it can only try to pull the man onto its path. In Simberg’s paintings, angels never fly.
Simberg alludes to choices in another work also. He never provided a direct back story to The Peasant and Death at the Gates of Heaven and Hell, but some of his sketches contain hints that may have a bearing on this. In them, he has depicted the peasant together with a devil in different situations. Sometimes the peasant is cheating the devil in a card game, sometimes weighing his choices when facing temptations presented by the devil. The playing card shape of the works and their components inevitably alludes to life as a game of good and bad deeds. Past life and our actions are weighed at the gates of the afterlife.
Connections to Finnish folk stories have sometimes been seen in this work. The story The Man Who Went to Heaven is about a man who had fooled even Death himself in his life. Finally, he has to come face to face with Death. “[…] He now leads the man into other worlds, and first they come to the gates of heaven. There Death knocks on the door and asks: Will you take in a man who is good at cards? – Not here, take him to Hell! is the answer. So, Death carries the man to Hell and again asks at the door: Will you take a man in here who is good at cards? – Sure, is the answer from Hell, a man like that belongs here[!]”