Death, 1530-1630, German

“This is an outstanding example of a ‘memento mori,’ or ‘reminder of death’: a gruesome skeleton clothed in tattered flesh holds a scroll bearing the Latin inscription, ‘I am what you will be.  I was what you are.  For every man this is so.’  That the artist has depicted the cadaver in a graceful pose that mimics that of Adam in Albrecht Durer’s famous engraving of Adam and Eve is probably intentional; it was due to Adam’s sin that humans were subject to death.  The carving was certainly made for a sophisticated collector-Archduke Ferdinand owned one that is not as good-and such a collector would recognize the source of the pose.

The complexity of the carving of this statuette demonstrates the qualities of boxwood.  The carver was able to hollow out the gut and peel away the skin without the form collapsing.

Boxwood; 61.97, acquired by Henry Walters.”

From the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

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