Medieval Momento Mori Jewelry
Head - carved quartz crystal, 1450-1500; Pendant - 1540-1550, enamelled gold
Historical significance: This jewelry conveys one of the most profound themes of the late Middle Ages, serving as a memento mori, (roughly translated from the Latin as ‘Remember you must die’), a reminder of the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The belief in universal judgement after death encouraged the production of objects that would act as a memento mori, or reminder of mortality. Good conduct depended to some extent on the knowledge that death awaited everyone.
- The head, possibly from a rosary, shows the face of a young woman on one side and a death’s head on the other. Either by accident or design, the girl’s head may be seen reflected in the eye sockets of the skull.
- Pendant of the skeleton and coffin reminded the wearer that death, and therefore judgement, were certain, and so it encouraged a virtuous life.
Weber, Aspects of Death in Art and Epigram, 1914.