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  • Writer's pictureAlex Naszados

Memento Mori

Updated: Dec 24, 2019

Shroud and skeletal brasses are a smaller subset of brasses, and a rather morbid one. These often show emaciated or skeletal figures wrapped in a burial shroud. It is thought that these were typically laid down during the life of the honoree as a reminder of their mortality. Skeletal figures, without shrouds, are also known.

Archbishop Henry Chichele (early 1400s) commissioned a two-level tomb for himself. The upper level depicts him in his vestments, as though resting peacefully. The lower level shows his decaying corpse. This monument was installed several years before his death so that on his way to Mass each day, he was able to contemplate his mortality by seeing his own rotting corpse. As medieval historian, John Aberth, writes, "Medieval men like Chichele could calmly contemplate their future deaths and face it squarely- even imagine themselves dead- because they firmly believed that death was not the end, but merely a beginning."

"I was pauper-born," reads the inscription on his tomb, "then to primate raised. Now I am cut down and served up for worms. Behold my grave."

Currently, I'm working from a 1429 brass from Bruges Cathedral depicting "J. de Munter and his wife", which I will split into a diptych. Showing only their wan faces, it is not as macabre as the skeletal depictions I've looked at, but it would certainly have served as a sobering reminder during their lifetimes.

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