Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Master S (also called Sanders van Brugsal) (Momogrammist S.) ; Master S (Alexander van Brugsal?) (Momogrammist S.)


Memento Mori

Creation Date

ca. 1520


early 16th century


5 7/8 in. x 4 3/4 in. (15 cm x 12 cm)

Object Type


Creation Place

Europe, Netherlands

Medium and Support

engraving, with contemprary hand coloring on paper

Credit Line

Gift of Linda and David Roth in memory of David P. Becker and Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund


Public Domain

Accession Number


Object Description


The following description reeived from Hill-Stone, Inc.:
EARLY NETHERLANDISH SCHOOL Here attributed to MASTER S, also known as SANDERS VAN BRUGSAL circa 1520 Memento Mori. Engraving, with contemporary hand coloring and possibly slightly later manuscript additions in the margins. In good condition with fresh surfaces and hand coloring; a few wormholes throughout the image. Apparently unique and undescribed. This remarkable engraving constitutes a new addition to a subject that fascinated the period: the inevitability of death and the horrors of physical decay. A skeleton, arms crossed in a burial position, has a long worm moving between his teeth; another worm crawls up his rib cage and rats scamper across the hole in the earth from which he has half emerged. Two engraved inscriptions make clear the import of the image. On a banderole around his skull, hand colored in dark red, appears Spiegelt u me [n] che [n] o [p] slii [k] der erde so ic ben moet ghi werden [‘Mirror yourselves, people, on the mud of the earth: I am so as you will become’]. ‘Mud of the Earth’ has a double meaning of money. Thus ‘mud of the earth’ must refer as well to the futility of greed. Below the image an engraved inscription in a bright red, hand colored tablet reads Vreest den heer en doet hem eer/ den dach van sterven haest hem seer [‘Fear the Lord and honor him/ the day of dying hurries himself/is approaching’]. At the top in the margin a manuscript inscription Cogita mori may be translated as ‘Remember death’. In the right margin Ipse jubet mortis te meminisse Deus may be translated as ‘God commands that you remind yourself of death’. More difficult is the inscription in the lower margin ora, caput, nares, oculos [...] bracchia, ventrem/ Inspice, tam turpen te tua fata dabut [‘They will give you mouths, a head, noses (nostrils), eyes, arms, a stomach and look, your destiny is still ugly/foul.’]. An Van Camp of the British Museum notes that it is unclear who ‘they’ are and why mouth and nose are in the plural; it would seem, though, that this inscription refers to the disgusting details of physical decay in general. While the character of the inscription and the style of the engraving strongly suggest a date at the beginning of the 16th century or the end of the 15th century in the Netherlands it is difficult to attempt a more precise attribution, given the few signed engravings in the Netherlands at this time. We can suggest that the lack of classicizing motifs in our engraving does confirm a date at the beginning of the 16th century, or even at the close of the 15th century, as by the end of the first quarter of the 16th century, these classicizing elements make an appearance in engraving. Another difficulty with attribution has to do with the relative rarity of the subject in printmaking in the later 15th and early 16th centuries, making it difficult to find comparable images. However, the two engravings of skulls by Master WA (Hollstein 42 and 43) while different in handling do suggest a strong formal kinship with our engraving. Master WA is thought to have worked between 1465 and 1485 in Bruges and at the court of Charles the Bold. Another and very telling comparison may be made between a Memento Mori by Master S (Bartsch vol. 10, p. 130, no. 20 and Hollstein 456). The handling of the skulls, especially the treatment of the eye sockets and the skeleton below, is very similar to the eye sockets of our skeletal figure, and the vermin who attack our figure have very strong similarities. Note here the head of the serpent in the jaws of our figure and the head of the snake who is wound around the left arm of the figure in the engraving by Master S. Master S, identified as Master S van Brugsal, produced engravings some of which are dated 1519 and 1520, a date not inconsistent with the style of our sheet. Whoever he was, our engraver was entirely familiar with the basic syntax of engraving at the end of the 15th and the first quarter of the 16th century in the North. The hatching is sharp and authoritative and conveys a compelling physical presence to the skeletal figure. The vivid conception of our engraving, with the remarkable motif of the worm in the jaws of the skeleton, and the other attending vermin, constitutes one of the most memorable versions of this subject of the period. This powerful engraving is of a piece with the fascination with the gruesome aspects of death and decay shown in Late Medieval Europe. Johan Huizinga in his monumental and frequently quoted, The Waning of the Middle Ages, cites frequent and luridly detailed descriptions of the decay of the body used by preachers and reflected in art during the period. The wormholes in the paper suggest that it may have been at one time been pasted into an ironbound wood box for a book of hours. This may account for the exceptional preservation of the sheet with its marginal inscriptions. 150 x 120 mm 5 15/16 x 4 ? inches

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