This is one of the best 19th Century examples of a Memento Mori I have ever offered. It’s at least 150 years old and in perfect condition. If you collect this type of rare Victorian oddity you already know just how unique this one is. There is some humor and irreverence in the fact that the skeleton is giving that final hand gesture. It is signed on what I believe is an engraved silver plaque.
What is a “Memento Mori”?
Memento Mori is Latin for “Remember death.” The phrase is believed to originate from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” = “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”
Memento mori. Remember that you will die.
Us moderns don’t like to think too much about death. It’s a bit too depressing and morbid for our think-positive sensibilities. Our culture is devoted to perpetuating the lie that you can stay young forever and your life will go on and on.
But for men living in antiquity all the way up until the beginning of the 20th century, rather than being a downer, death was seen as a motivator to live a good, meaningful, and virtuous life. To help men remember death, artists created paintings, sculptures, and mosaics depicting skulls, skeletons, and other symbols of death. Churches would display memento mori art to compel viewers to meditate on death, reflect on their lives, and re-dedicate themselves to preparing to meet God. Devout Christians would often ask that their tomb or grave marker have some sort of skeleton motif on it to remind their visiting family members to get right with God before they too bit the dust.
We have this item on display in our new showroom…. $4200
115 North Water Street, Peekskill NY 10566
Steve Erenberg – 914-257-1664