July 1, 2016

Miniature Memento Moris

In the 16th Century, the Best Office Decor was a Tiny Rotting Corpse

There are many additions you can make to your office desk in order to remind yourself to stay motivated, seize the day, and make every minute count. A mini zen garden or framed motivational quote, for instance; ....or a 16th-century statuette of a rotting corpse.


A 16th-century memento mori attributed to Hans Leinberger. (Photo: The Walters Art Museum/Creative Commons)

The wooden carving above, sculpted by German artist Hans Leinberger in the 1520s, is a memento mori—a reminder of human mortality designed to keep its owner humble, focused, and untethered to worldly possessions....the corpse in Leinberger's sculpture clutches a scroll with a Latin inscription that translates to "I am what you will be. I was what you are. For every man is this so."

 Transi Mini Memento Mori-1

The Transi of René de Chalon. (Photo: H. Zell/)

One of the more striking full-sized memento moris of the era is the statue of René de Chalon, a French prince who died at 25 in the 1544 siege of Saint-Dizier. Known as a transi—for its depiction of human transience—the sculpture shows the prince's desiccated corpse holding his own heart aloft.

The wooden carving below, which was created in 19th-century Italy, shows a woman's head with half her skull exposed. Note the baby snake wrapped around her mandible. Note also that despite the facial decay, her ruffled collar and lace cap are perfectly intact.

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A 19th-century Italian memento mori. (Photo: Wellcome Library, London)

Posted by Jill Fallon at July 1, 2016 2:39 PM | Permalink