Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Artist

Unknown Artist (German or Netherlandish?)

Title

Memento Mori Prayer Bead

Creation Date

1500-1550

Century

first half of the 16th century

Dimensions

2 3/4 in. x 1 1/2 in. x 1 5/8 in. (6.99 cm x 3.81 cm x 4.13 cm)

Object Type

carving

Creation Place

Europe

Medium and Support

ivory

Credit Line

Gift of Linda and David Roth in memory of David P. Becker

Copyright

Public Domain

Accession Number

2011.26
This memento mori prayer bead serves as a reminder of the inescapability of death and helped lead to the formulation of vanitas, or the hollowness of earthly pleasures. It originally decorated a chaplet or rosary that in late medieval and early modern Europe was used as an aid, through prayer, toward salvation. Chaplets reminded the devotee of his or her mortality, and this bead’s use of memento mori is no exception. Using the doubled-headed Janus figure, the head of a decaying corpse with mouth opened appears back-to-back with a skull; an elaborate network of bone and sinew conjoins the two. Snakes, frogs, snails, and reptiles crawl over its surface, making the bead an object of both fascination and repulsion. The snake was a traditional symbol for original sin and the fall of man, but the frog symbolized Christ’s resurrection. The ivory was likely imported from Africa, a result of global trading networks.

Additional Media

Additional Image Ivory.2011.face.jpg
Ivory.2011.face.jpg
Additional Image Ivory.2011.side.jpg
Ivory.2011.side.jpg
Additional Image Ivory.2011.sidedup.jpg
Ivory.2011.sidedup.jpg
Additional Image Ivory.2011.top.jpg
Ivory.2011.top.jpg
Additional Image Ivory.2011.topdup.jpg
Ivory.2011.topdup.jpg

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