Memento Mori

Memento Mori

Alarm clock, mounted on model of coffin, probably English, 1840-1900

Death before modern times was a common thing. Epidemics and disease destroyed entire cities and decimated population. Skulls, bones and dead bodies, arguably, were the commonest things people were exposed to during their lifetime.

Wax model of a decomposing body in a walnut coffin, Italy, 1774-1800

Wax model of a decomposing body in a walnut coffin, Italy, 1774-1800.

Thus, centuries ago, the attitude toward death and images of skulls was quite different. Everyone was afraid of the Great Ripper, but people believed in the afterlife, in one form or another and, in the bustle of their mundane life, nothing reminded them of Death and upcoming thereafter than images of skulls.

1280px-Cripta_Cappuccini

Cripta Cappuccini

Noi eravamo quello che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete.“We were what you are; and what we are, you will be,” speak the skulls of the Capuchin brothers in the catacombs, anterooms and subterranean chapels beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. Disassembled bones, skulls and teeth of the departed Capuchins have been arranged to form a rich Baroque architecture of the human condition set in bones:

Monument funéraire de Jean de Sachy (1er échevin d'Amiens, mort en 1644) et de Marie de Revelois (morte en 1662), oeuvre de Nicolas Blasset, dans la cathédrale d'Amiens.Détail: la Mort

Monument funéraire de Jean de Sachy (1er échevin d’Amiens, mort en 1644) et de Marie de Revelois (morte en 1662), oeuvre de Nicolas Blasset, dans la cathédrale d’Amiens.Détail: la Mort

Memento Mori (Death comes to the dinner table), de Giovanni Martinelli (vers 1635). Huile sur toile (114,2 x 158 cm). Galerie G. Sarti, Paris.

Memento Mori (Death comes to the dinner table), de Giovanni Martinelli (vers 1635). Huile sur toile (114,2 x 158 cm). Galerie G. Sarti, Paris.

German master c. 1620, Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Wax Jack and Pocket Sundial, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

German master c. 1620, Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Wax Jack and Pocket Sundial, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

WLANL - mennofokke - Vanitas, Adriaan Coorte, Middelburg, 1688

WLANL – mennofokke – Vanitas, Adriaan Coorte, Middelburg, 1688

“Memento mori”. Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D. Inv. No. 109982. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.

“Memento mori”. Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D.
Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Symbolism of chance (Fortuna’s wheel) divine justice (right angle and plumb-bob) and mortality.

Variety of depictions of skulls decorated the interiors of palatial houses, and, in itself, were considered absolutely normal and even fashionable, from the 16th until the 20th century.

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And this is a contemporary artifact:cocaine skull

A life-size human skull is a contemporary artwork, entitled Ecce Animal. It is  sculpted by Dutch artist Diddy. Notice a certain illicit white substance crumbling from the base of the piece. This is — of all things — a concoction of gelatin and cocaine. The author did not check the quality of the drug, but laboratory tests showed that the purity of it is about 20%. Due to a binding non-disclosure agreement with the work’s patron, Diddo is unable to reveal any details regarding the work’s price or worth. Was the artist fascinated with Death or cocaine?

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