This small ivory and bone carving conveys one of the most profound themes of the late Middle Ages, serving as a memento mori, a reminder of the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death.
The repetition of prayers and liturgical texts was an important part of late medieval devotion. The rosary, which became popular by the fourteenth century, is a collection of these texts devoted particularly to the Virgin Mary. Strings of beads to assist those saying the long sequences of recitations also came to be known as rosaries. Such carvings as this one are pierced vertically for suspension, consistent with their original function as pendants to rosaries or chaplets (shorter strings of devotional beads).
Dating from the late Middle Ages through the seventeenth century, there are many surviving memento mori pendants from rosaries. Here, they are double-sided, the pendants are decorated with a skull (here with a charming, naive and astonishing smile) on one side and a youthful face (here christ and the crown of thorns) on the other side.
For three museal examples very similar see the collection of Baronne Henri de Rothschild (inventory 25721, 25723 and 25766 du Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris ; see également Sophie Motsch (sous la direction de), “Même pas peur ! Collection de la boaonne Henri de Rothschild, Paris, Somogy, 2018, page 57, 65 et 70-71). They are describe as “Grain de chapelet à deux faces, XVIe siècle, os”.
They are made in bone and ivory.
Size : from 2,6×2 cm to 3,1×2,5 cm
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Established by Alexandre Piffault in 2014 and based in Paris at 5 rue de Condé, 75006, very close to Odéon, Le Zograscope specializes in antique and rare books in Science, Medicine and Technology, and rare antique instruments in the same fields. We have especially a strong interest in early and continental microscopy, early and special mathematical/drawing instruments, medical and surgical instrument, and rare technology.