Looking Behind Memento Mori Objects: ‘Artnet’ Reviews ‘Unique’ Bowdoin Exhibition

“Memento Mori Prayer Bead,” ca. 17th century, German or Netherlandish.

An exhibition staged by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art examining how mortality played into Renaissance culture, has been described as “unique in its focus” by artnet.com’s Menachem Wecker. “The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe,” which runs until November 26, 2017, examines the appeal of memento mori objects, which are things that remind us of our mortality. (Memento mori is Latin for “Remember that you must die.”)

The show features engravings, woodcuts, sculptures, and prayer beads from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of them made from ivory at a time when such items “emerged as popular collectors’ items fuleled by the new availabilty of materials and by the rising popularity of humanist and religious sentiment.”

This macabre genre, with its portrayal of decaying corpses, “Death’s-heads,” skulls, and skeletons, is described by Wecker as “oft-misunderstood.” Following a tour of the exhibition with curator Stephen Perkinson, who is the Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Art History at Bowdoin, Wecker put together a “handy guide” to help modern viewers get the most out of the show. Step one: “Look Beyond the Yuck Factor.” Read Menacham Wecker’s review of “The Ivory Mirror.”

Since it opened in June, 2017, the exhibition was also reviewed last month in The Boston Globe, where it was, additionally, chosen as one of the “Critic’s Picks” in the Summer Arts Preview. It was also among the “Notable Museum Openings This Summer” in The New York Times.

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