November 2 is the Day of the Dead, a colourful Mexican festival where people remember friends and family members who have died. A perfect day to have a look at some of our objects which represent the dead …
First off there are death masks, used both to commemorate the famous and the criminal. This death mask of Benjamin Disraeli was taken six hours after he died in 1881.
We’ve also got some slightly gruesome anatomical models:
Such models would normally be made as educational tools, but were also part of the strong aesthetic tradition which linked art and anatomy.
We also have a whole range of vanitas figures and memento mori – reminding the living of the transience of life and the inevitability of death. Snakes and frogs are a common feature of such figures, and I’m told that the use of the frog reflects the dramatic changes of form it goes through during its life cycle, making it a potent symbol of change and renewal.
Finally, some encourage a sense of fatalistic humour about the end of life:
Yes, the tongue pokes out and the eyes roll up. What more could you ask for in a memento mori?