1/11/15

Attributed to Hans Leinberger, Figure of Death (Memento Mori)

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Date: 1520s
Technique: Boxwood, 24.7 cm

This is an outstanding example of a memento mori, or "reminder of death": a gruesome skeleton clothed in tattered flesh holds a scroll bearing the Latin inscription, "I am what you will be. I was what you are. For every man is this so." That the artist--probably Hans Leinberger--has depicted the cadaver in a graceful pose that mimics that of Adam in Albrecht Dürer's famous engraving of Adam and Eve is probably intentional; it was due to Adam's sin that humans were subject to death. This carving was surely made for a sophisticated collector--Archduke Ferdinand of Austria owned one also attributed to Leinberger (see wikipedia) that is not quite so well proportioned--and such a collector would have recognized the source of the pose. The complexity of the carving of this statuette demonstrates the qualities of boxwood, that the gut could be hollowd out and skin peeled away without the form collapsing. 

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