"The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein includes an optical illusion in the center. If looked at from a side angle a skull appears between the two subjects. It is a classic example of Memento Mori.
Students of history generally find themselves drawn to certain time periods. Something about the people and powers of those moments fascinates, and they are drawn to the art, literature, and customs of a certain age. For me, this is the Renaissance.
So much happened during the Renaissance, as the dawning of the theology of grace began to break through clouds of confusion all around Europe. Churches used stunningly beautiful altarpieces to teach the faithful. Artists carefully crafted portraits to convey the messages their patrons desired, either displaying the opulence they enjoyed or the piety they valued. In one sense, the Renaissance is where advertising and message manipulation began.
One interesting motif in Renaissance Art is known as Memento Mori. Patrons who commissioned personal portraits, family sittings, or still life paintings encouraged the artist to include a small reminder of death in the work. In many, a skull sits with other items on the table, or a pile of bones rests in the corner of an otherwise luxurious room. Sometimes the reminder was conveyed through an optical illusion. The message, whatever the portrayal, was universal–the reality of death is present even in the fullness of life. Memento Mori visually shared the message of Psalm 90:12; “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Far from morbid, Memento Mori were designed to inspire. Our days are numbered, and with each passing season of life, we leave a legacy. Onlookers were challenged to consider that legacy. How would they impact the world they lived in? What would they be remembered for? The names and legacies of many powerful individuals from the Renaissance Period have faded over time. The lesson of Memento Mori has not.
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Thank you for the legacy you are creating through your support of Fieldstone Counseling! As God binds up the brokenhearted through the work of our ministry, your gifts impact many lives.
Crystal is a Christ-follower, wife, mother, counselor, and friend. She is passionate about connecting others with the truth of God's miraculous power and sustaining presence.