background image
Bowdoin College
Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Collections       Exhibitions       Visit       Events       Digital Resources       About       Learn       Join and Give       Shop

The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe

June 24, 2017 - November 26, 2017

This exhibition constitutes a significant contribution to our understanding of a critical facet of late medieval and early modern culture: the centrality of the macabre.

Introduction

This exhibition represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the rich visual culture of mortality in Renaissance Europe. The appeal of the “memento mori,” featuring macabre imagery urging us to “remember death,” reached the apex of its popularity around 1500, when artists treated the theme in innovative and compelling ways. Exquisite artworks—from ivory prayer beads to gem-encrusted jewelry—evoke life’s preciousness and the tension between pleasure and responsibility, then and now.

We offer our heartfelt thanks to the many generous funders of this exhibition and catalogue, without whom this undertaking would not be possible. We are deeply grateful for contributions on the part of the Stevens L. Frost Endowment Fund, The Roth Family, Class of 1976 and 2013, the Becker Fund for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, The Devonwood Foundation, Caroline and Edward Hyman P’10, the Class of 1976 Art Conservation Fund, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Shapell Family Art Fund, the Sylvia E. Ross Fund, Robert Judd and Dr. Cristle Collins Judd, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Robert Lehman Foundation, the Lowell Innes Fund, Mary K. McGuigan and John F. McGuigan Jr., Thomas ’06 and Hannah Weil McKinley ’08, Svetlana and Eric Silverman ’85, P’19, the Peter M. Small Professorship Fund, the Friends Fund of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Maine Humanities Council, Lady Jill Shaw Ruddock ’77 CBE and Sir Paul Ruddock CBE, Lindsay R. ’95 and Peter Stavros, and the Roy A. Hunt Foundation.

 

Works in the Exhibition

Master S (Alexander van Brugsal?), Netherlandish, "Memento Mori," ca. 1520, engraving, with contemporary hand coloring. Gift of Linda and David Roth in memory of David P. Becker and Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund.

Master S (Alexander van Brugsal?), Netherlandish, "Memento Mori," ca. 1520, engraving, with contemporary hand coloring. Gift of Linda and David Roth in memory of David P. Becker and Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund.

Southern Netherlands or northern France, "Pendant, memento mori from a chaplet," ca. 1520–1530, ivory with traces of red and black paint, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Southern Netherlands or northern France, "Pendant, memento mori from a chaplet," ca. 1520–1530, ivory with traces of red and black paint, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Netherlands, "Portrait of a Surgeon," 1569, oil on wood. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915

Netherlands, "Portrait of a Surgeon," 1569, oil on wood. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915

"Memento Mori Prayer Bead," ca. 17th century?, German or Netherlandish.  Gift of Linda and David Roth in memory of David P. Becker.

"Memento Mori Prayer Bead," ca. 17th century?, German or Netherlandish. Gift of Linda and David Roth in memory of David P. Becker.

Albrecht Dürer, German," St. Jerome in his Study," 1514, engraving. Bequest of David P. Becker, Class of 1970. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Albrecht Dürer, German," St. Jerome in his Study," 1514, engraving. Bequest of David P. Becker, Class of 1970. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Lucas van Leyden, Netherlandish, "Young Man with a Skull," ca. 1519, engraving. Gift of Charles Pendexter.

Lucas van Leyden, Netherlandish, "Young Man with a Skull," ca. 1519, engraving. Gift of Charles Pendexter.

Hans Holbein the Younger, "Death and the Rich Man," ca. 1526, woodcut. Bequest of David P. Becker, Class of 1970. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Hans Holbein the Younger, "Death and the Rich Man," ca. 1526, woodcut. Bequest of David P. Becker, Class of 1970. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Johan Wierix, Flemish, "The Coat of Arms of Death," 1549-1615, engraving. Museum Purchase. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Johan Wierix, Flemish, "The Coat of Arms of Death," 1549-1615, engraving. Museum Purchase. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

“Rosary Terminal Bead with Lovers and Death’s Head,” ca. 1500–1530, ivory, with emerald pendant, silver-gilt mount, BCMA Attribution to Chicart Bailly. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

“Rosary Terminal Bead with Lovers and Death’s Head,” ca. 1500–1530, ivory, with emerald pendant, silver-gilt mount, BCMA Attribution to Chicart Bailly. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

France or southern Netherlands, "Chaplet," ca. 1520–1540, ivory, silver, and partially gilded mounts. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

France or southern Netherlands, "Chaplet," ca. 1520–1540, ivory, silver, and partially gilded mounts. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

School of Conrad Meit, German, "Vanitas," ca. 1525, boxwood. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Antonia Paepcke DuBrul and Association Funds, and Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

School of Conrad Meit, German, "Vanitas," ca. 1525, boxwood. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Antonia Paepcke DuBrul and Association Funds, and Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Germany,  "Death with Outstretched Right Arm" and "Death with Left-Hand Raised," 1600–1650 lindenwood. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Germany, "Death with Outstretched Right Arm" and "Death with Left-Hand Raised," 1600–1650 lindenwood. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Written by Andreas Vesalius, Southern Netherlandish, 1514–1564, "De humani corporis fabrica libri septem" (Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543), printed book with woodcut illustrations. Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Written by Andreas Vesalius, Southern Netherlandish, 1514–1564, "De humani corporis fabrica libri septem" (Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543), printed book with woodcut illustrations. Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Visiting the Exhibition

June 24, 2017 - November 26, 2017

    Boyd Gallery, Shaw Ruddock Gallery

Multimedia Resources

Watch the keynote address, "Lessons for Living: The Macabre in Renaissance Art" delivered  by Stephen Perkinson, Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Art History and guest curator for The Ivory Mirror, on June 24, 2017.

Watch the panel discussion, "Exhibiting Ivory Today: Historical Artifacts in a Contemporary Context," presented at Bowdoin College on September 13, 2017. Speakers included Stephen J. Knewly Jr., '72, Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP; Genevieve LeMoiong, curator, Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College; and Stephen Perkinson, Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Art History and guest curator for The Ivory Mirror.

Watch "What is the Work of the Dead," by Thomas Laqueur, Fawcett Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.    Presented at Bowdoin College on September 27, 2017.