Advertisement for Atabrine, anti-malaria drug, in Papua, New Guinea during WWII.
Arkiv for kategorien ‘Memento mori’
Kusôzu, “painting of the nine stages of a decay corpse,” emerged in the 13th century, though the Buddhist teaching was introduced in Japan several centuries earlier. Kukai (774- 835), in fact, wrote poems (kusôkanshi) based on the series. The subject is always a woman and in scrolls the images are viewed right to left.
The oldest images were probably displayed in a structure at Daigoji temple in Kyoto. As Kyoto was (and still is) Japan’s religious capital for most of the country’s recorded history, much religious art, including kusôzu, is preserved in Kyoto, either by temples or museums.
See large version of the picture here
See also my earlier post on this subject: Body of a courtesan in nine stages of decomposition, c. 1870
Wax Model of a Decomposing Body in a Walnut Coffin, Italy, 1774-1800, The Science Museum, London
The body in this wooden coffin is in a severe state of decomposition. It may have had two purposes: as ‘memento mori’, a reminder of death, or as a teaching aid. The figure is surrounded by three frogs. Frogs are symbols of rebirth and regeneration because they change so much in their lifetimes. Wax modelling was used in Europe to create religious effigies. From the 1600s, they were also used to teach anatomy. The creation of wax anatomical models, centred in Italy, was based on observing real corpses. The museum known as La Specola, or ‘the observatory’, in Florence was famous for its wax collection.
Via Morbid Anatomy
When I read Henri Duday’s The Archaeology of the Dead: Lectures in Archaeothanatology (Oxbow Books 2009), I stumbled upon a black and white print of the same motive from the early 19th century Japan entitled “Voyages de la Mort” showing the decomposition of a corpse in 12 vignettes. In Japanese this motive is called kusôzu, lit. ‘images of the nine stages’ - a sort of Japanese Memento Mori.
Since then I have unsuccesfully tried to find these vignettes in a colour version. What I have found instead are these fascinating drawings depicting the same motive:
Paintied handscroll by Kobayashi Eitaku (1843 - 1890).
Ink and colour on silk. Sealed.
Height: 25.5 centimetres
Width: 501.5 centimetres
The scroll shows the stages of decomposition of the body of a woman, beginning with her fully clothed body and ending with her bones being eaten by dogs. The subject is an ancient Buddhist one, treating of the transience of the physical body, but which later assumed didactic functions relating to the proper conduct of women. In this example, however, the theme is given a new and somewhat prurient twist by its featuring of a prostitute as the subject. The work intersects with the world of ‘erotic pictures’ (shunga) and gives a very useful counterpoint for studying that genre. A prolific and versatile artist trained in the traditional Kano school, Eitaku achieved success rather through ukiyoe works and newspaper illustrations, but his reputation in Japan is not yet as high as it should be. Like many important artists whose careers straddled the end of the Edo period and beginning of the Meiji era, Japanese scholars have found it problematic to classify him. (TTC, Dec 2008)
If you are in New York on the 29th of April and you have some money to spend, you might should pay Sothebys a visit …
How about Lot No. 291:
‘THE ROUCHOMOVSKY SKELETON’: A RUSSIAN GOLD ARTICULATED SKELETON IN SILVER-GILT SARCOPHAGUS
Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 USD
A fully articulated human skeleton in a velvet-lined coffin chased around on each side with three panels showing the course of life, one end with attributes of the arts, the other with attributes of war, the removable cover with the journey in the footsteps of the Angel of Death, surrounded by the faces of infants alternately laughing and crying.
Skeleton signed in Cyrillic, on the right splint-bone: Mozyr 92 Odessa 96 and on the left splint-bone Rouchomovsky;
Sarcophagus signed on lid: Israel Rouchomovsky and in Cyrillic on base Israel Rouchomovsky Odessa 1901.
Length of skeleton 3 1/2 in. (9 cm), length of coffin 4 3/8 in. (11.2 cm)
Date: the skeleton 1892-1896, the sarcophagus 1896-1906
Israel Rouchomovsky, Mozyr and Odessa,
Israel Rouchomovsky (1860-1934) came from a poor family in Mozyr, Belarus. Almost three-quarters of the population of the town was Jewish, and according to some accounts his parents wanted him to become a rabbi. His memoirs describe how he was drawn to silversmithing, and the efforts required to get a work permit and move with his family to Odessa, where he arrived in 1892. They also recount how he helped a colleague make a first gold skeleton, now held in the Museum of Historical Treasures of the Ukraine. He had thought this first skeleton would require a month of work, when in fact it took four, and he thought he could do even better; only certain sections of the first skeleton could move. The inscription on the leg shows that the fully articulated skeleton – supposedly with 167 different parts – required five years of work.
In his own words:”In the second piece, with the help of minute ball-bearings, all body members can move in all directions, and even the lower jaw can be opened and closed. This time I was entirely satisfied and I could say without any humbleness that I succeeded, I really succeeded, and it was at that point that I realized that this “deceased” deserved a beautiful sarcophagus.”
It would be another five years to make the case, finished in Odessa in 1901. Again in Rouchomovsky’s own words: “The sarcophagus is cut in massive silver and is covered entirely with ornaments and miniature figures [which he describes in minute detail].” Of the whole project, almost a decade of careful craftsmanship, the artist wrote, “although the work has taken very long, I can say that it is one of my best works, and I have always remained more than content with it, not only with its execution, but also with its underlying conception.”