Man has always fought against the idea of his eventual demise. Egyptian funerary objects, ancient Greek grave markers, mediaeval depictions of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection all serve as artistic avoidance objects to escape the grotesque idea that we die and decompose into nonentity. What intrigues me is the way in which an artist both depicts and embodies this struggle by creating works which attempt to survive him or memorialize the patron who commissioned his work. Memento Mori, on the other hand, thematically categorizes a number of artworks which focus on reminding us of the brevity of our lives, the emptiness of earthly possessions and futility of vanity so that we are inspired to “seize the day” and make the most of our finite existence. Time, vanity, judgment, and immortality are all recurring themes in the memento mori arts correlating with the images of clocks, wilted flowers, heaven, and hell. My exhibit “Gone Tomorrow” explores the theme of evanescent man and his “dance of death” from as far back as Ancient Egyptian times to the modern day.
This exhibit displays artworks such as that of “The Singer of Amun Nany’s Funerary Papyrus” and Jan van Eyck’s "The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment" which depict scenes of religious judgment and the allure of the afterlife. These artistic representations of death would not only remind the viewer of their mortality but that they must live righteously so that they may be redeemed in view of the gods. “Vanitas Still Life” and “The Penitent Magdalen” portray themes of vanity and its hollowness in the threat of old age and inescapable expiry, warning the spectator of pleasure’s futility and the pithiness of life.
Egyptian Dynasty 21
"The Singer Amun Nany's Funerary Papyrus"
ca. 1050 B.C.
Greek, Attic (Classical Period)
"Miniature terracotta squat lekythos (oil flask) with siren"
mid-5th century B.C.
Greek and Roman art
"The Buddhist Guardian Mahabala"
Jan van Eyck
"The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment"
Jacques de Gheyn II
"Vanitas Still Life"
Georges de La Tour
"The Penitent Magdalen"
Utagawa Toyokuni I
"Takigawa of the Pleasure House"
Early 19 century
"The Dead Christ and the Angels"
Timothy H. O'Sullivan
"A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania"
"The Refusal of Time"
Modern and Contemporary Art