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The Dark Art of Memento Mori

Posted by J Meyers on

The Dark Art of Memento darkness

Artist Philippe de Champaigne, Still-Life with a Skull,  c. 1671 vanitas painting oil on panel. Image via Public domain via Wikipedia 

Artists have captured death's looming specter throughout history - Creating the skulls, skeletons and macabre symbols that have become Memento Mori or when translated "remember that you will die". During years of war, political unrest, famine and strife depictions of loss and morbid topics are commonplace resulting in a vast collection of death focused paintings and creations. Symbolically wine, musical instruments, skulls, flowers and hourglasses become reminders of the vanity and brevity of life. During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries when organized religion and the afterlife filled the minds of European Artists Memento Mori paintings became elaborate and filled with the pleasures' of life or Vanitas

Portrait of a Man - Memento Mori

Memento Mori (verso) Andrea Previtali (–1528) image via wikipedia commons PD-Art photographs 

skull mosaic art

A beautiful Roman skull mosaic representing the Wheel of Fortune. Image via Wikipedia commons from the 1st century BC an early example of a Memento Mori theme Naples National Archaeological Museum

dark art memento mori dark artwork

Titelprent met een schedel en een zandloper Memento Mori, 1626 image via wikipedia commons

skeleton-memento-mori art

A skeleton, seated on his grave, awakes to the last trumpet on judgement day. Etching by Martin after J. Gamelin, 1778/1779. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A skeleton Crayon 1779 By: Jacques Gamelin

Memento Mori Death Framed poster based on a late 15th century engraving by Master IAM of Zwolle.

Dark Art & Craft print based on 15th century Master IAM of Zwolle Memento Mori Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image via Wikipedia.

dark art memento skeleton art

Memento Mori still life with musical instruments, books, sheet music, skeleton, skull and armor, c.1650 oil on canvas by Carstian Luyckx. Image via Wikipedia.

Scheuchzer, 1731-33: memento mori

Scheuchzer, 1731-33; Memento Mori image via Wikipedia commons

Classic Painted Memento Mori Works

Memento Mori paintings are meant to remind one of the inevitability of Death. These can be seen as morbid, as many detractors of the style have stated, or an optimistic reminder to live ones life fully while it lasts - A reality to ponder rather than fear.

dark skull memento mori art print

William Michael Harnett - Memento Mori, "To This Favour" This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

memento mori painting dark art print

“Vanitas Still Life” by Pieter Claesz, 1630. (Photo: Public domain via Wikipedia)

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Dark Art & Craft Prints and Art Products

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Saint Jerome Writing,

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Saint Jerome Writing, 1605–05. Image via Wikimedia Commons CC

Adriaen van Utrecht- Vanitas - Still Life with Bouquet and Skull.

Adriaen van Utrecht- Vanitas - Still Life with Bouquet and Skull. {{PD-US}} – U.S. work that is in the public domain. Image via wikipedia.

still life with skull painting

Great Vanity (Stoskopff) image via wikipedia

Memento Mori with a Skull under a Vase with Flowers

Jan Davidsz de Heem Memento Mori with a Skull under a Vase with Flowers  {{PD-Art|PD-old-100-expired} image via Wikipedia commons

dark skull painting history

Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts, Vanitas Still Life c. 1668 via Wikimedia Commons. (Detail) via Google Arts and Culture

gravestone art

Gravestone with memento mori and hourglass, image via Wikipedia commons. St Nicholas' Church in the village of Ash, in the Ash-with-Westmarsh.  Image © AcabashiCreative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0; Source: Wikimedia Commons

Modern Memento Mori

Memento Mori (print created in 1916) by Julie de Graag. The 19th century de Graag (1877–1924) was a female Dutch graphic artist and painter who mainly produced graphic works in an Art Nouveau style. Her Memento Mori skull can be seen as a modern take on the age old theme.


Have a favorite Memento Mori work we haven't shown? Comment below!

J Meyers

@ Dark Art & Craft, print collector and Graphic Artist from Ohio, US.


1 comment

  • Great selection ! In sharing, french artist, I invite you to discover my series of drawings in progress: “Vanity”, of which the IPCC report is at the origin : https://1011-art.blogspot.com/p/vanite.html

    1011-art on

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