Viva la Vida Meaning: Coldplay, Delacroix & Frida Kahlo Watermelons

BY K Shabi PUBLISHED 01 Jan 2015

What does the title of the Coldplay album and song 'Viva la Vida' mean in English? As it turns out, the meaning of Coldplay's album and song "Viva la Vida" comes back to art history. The famous watermelons painting by Frida Kahlo and the album cover art of Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830) add to the overall meaning and significance of Coldplay's Viva la Vida album and song lyrics.

Frida Kahlo Viva La Vida (1954) watermelons painting
Frida Kahlo - Viva La Vida (1954)

Frida Kahlo's Viva La Vida (1954): the Watermelons painting & Coldplay

Does Frida Kahlo's painting Viva la Vida (1954) influence the meaning of Coldplay's song and album? As a matter of fact, Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin is indeed familiar with Frida Kahlo's famous watermelons painting and even mentioned being inspired by Kahlo's "boldness" when asked in an interview about the meaning of the new Coldplay album name:

"She went through a lot of shit, of course, and then she started a big painting in her house that said 'Viva la Vida.' I just loved the boldness of it." Chris Martin on Frida Kahlo's Viva la Vida

Much like Coldplay's Viva la Vida album cover art, the famous Frida Kahlo watermelons painting also has the words "Viva la Vida" scrawled across it, though the Spanish title is more expected coming from a Mexican, Spanish speaking artist than an English rock band. So what does Viva la Vida mean in English? Why did Frida Kahlo and Coldplay both choose that title to name their art? In the English language, "Viva la vida" literally means "Long live life" or "Live the life."

Meaning of Viva la Vida painting by Frida Kahlo

For Frida Kahlo, the meaning of Viva la Vida is all about a celebration of life, despite its sorrows and many troubles. An artist plagued by pain and illness throughout her short life, it is widely believed that Viva la Vida was Frida Kahlo's last painting, painted just days before she died young at the age of 47 years old in the summer of 1954. After a careful analysis of the painting and brushstrokes, some art critics argue that the watermelons were actually painted much earlier but, sensing that her time was near, Kahlo added the inscription "Viva la vida" on her death bed as her famous last words.

Whatever the case, it is indeed truly inspiring that, even with her own death looming near, Frida Kahlo had the strength and boldness to escape pessimism even in a moment when darkness and morbidity would have been expected and even acceptable. Instead, Kahlo turned her watermelons into a symbol and celebration of life's fleeting simple pleasures, like enjoying a cool and refreshing slice of watermelon as a momentary respite from the relentless summer heat.

Eugene Delacroix Liberty Leading the People Analysis: Coldplay Cover Art
Eugene Delacroix- Liberty Leading the People (1830)

Coldplay Cover Art: Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People Analysis

Like Frida Kahlo's unyielding watermelons, it's easy to see why Coldplay was also inspired by Eugene Delacroix's perseverant Liberty Leading the People painting and used it as the cover art for the Viva la Vida album. Death also plays a role in Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830), the painting chosen as the cover art for the Coldplay album. As in Frida Kahlo's Viva la Vida, the overall meaning of Delacroix's painting remains optimistic, even in spite of its deathly overtones.

In Liberty Leading the People, the somewhat roughed up lady Liberty raises the flag over her head, perhaps invoking confidence in the hopes of encouraging the shaken and unsure men behind her to continue in their maybe doomed revolutionary charge. Dead bodies and fallen corpses block the path, making it difficult for the people to move forward or know where to go. The road is not clear and victory is not sure, but Liberty leads the people and does her best to inspire them to keep calm and carry on in spite of it all. After all, Liberty symbolizes the people's hard fought battle for freedom from the oppression of the status quo of the current government regime.

"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

Coldplay Viva la Vida Lyrics Meaning: Analysis

So how does Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People cover art relate back to Coldplay and the meaning of the album and Viva la Vida song lyrics? Political revolution is also a major theme on the Coldplay album and particularly in the title track. In the song lyrics of "Viva la Vida," Coldplay recounts the revolution from the opposite perspective as Delacroix, singing on behalf of the overthrown king.

Instead of characterizing the deposed monarch as a one dimensional evil tyrant, in Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" lyrics the vanquished king is ultimately regretful. Once a revolutionary fighting for justice himself, in Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" in retrospect the king realizes that along the way he lost track of what was right as a leader and eventually turned into the very despot that he originally fought to overthrow. "People couldn't believe what I'd become," the king admits, and it seems like he can't believe it, either.

"One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me. I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand."

The future may seem bleak for the king in Coldplay's "Viva la vida," but all is not lost. Though it may be difficult to come back after having "ruled the world," in "Viva la vida" making a positive comeback doesn't seem impossible. The song's triumphant chorus is resoundingly hopeful, much like the meaning behind Frida Kahlo's inspirational painting and the album cover art by Delacroix.

"So you can hurt me bad, but still I'll raise the flag..." Coldplay lyrics, "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall"

Life can definitely be hard at times, but the real meaning behind the phrase "Viva la vida", is to never give up, even if keeping on seems impossible. Viva la vida!

filed under: music, art

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