Friday, October 12, 2012

Curious History: Pocket Watch Concealed in a Memento Mori, 1700

Memento mori (a Latin phrase for “remember your mortality”) are objects that were usually carried or worn by a person as a reminder of one’s mortality. What’s particularly interesting about them is that they were very common objects for hundreds of years. They served the purpose of reminding the owner of mortality and the shortness of life. Prior to the 15th century, the objects would usually be in the shape of a full skeleton or a combination of a skeleton and a healthy body. Early in 16th century, the trend evolved into the image of a skull or half skull, half face. The ones above served a practical purpose in that they contains a pocket watch.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the trend of having memento mori objects went out of fashion. This was around the same time that families ceased having viewings of deceased loved ones in the home and used mortuaries instead. The concept of caring for a family member’s body until burial was no longer the cultural norm. As a society we have distanced ourselves from the concept of death both mentally and physically. Considering death is as natural to life as birth, this is not necessarily a positive trend.

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