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The Courtauld | Memento mori Imagery & the Limits of the Self in Late Medieval Europe

May 26, 2022 @ 11:30 am - 1:00 pm

Memento mori Imagery and the Limits of the Self in Late Medieval Europe

Objects bearing memento mori themes were abundant in Europe in the decades immediately around the year 1500. The material properties of these objects – the matter from which they were formed, the apparent care or negligence with which they were fashioned, and the ways their physical condition betrays signs of heavy use or careful conservation – can point us toward a better understanding of the diversity of interests that inspired their creation and use. These motivations range from pious apprehensions about the fate of one’s soul to arguably less anxious ruminations on the nature of image-making and the role of an emerging sense of aesthetic engagement. Taken together, they encapsulate one of the central fascinations and anxieties of their age: in an era committed to the notion that deep truths could be conveyed through surface appearances and that individual identity could be captured, communicated, and preserved through static imagery, memento mori objects resisted the notion of a stable self, reminding their viewers of the anonymity that awaits us all in the grave.
Stephen Perkinson’s scholarship focuses on Medieval and Renaissance art of Northern Europe. He has published on topics ranging from the 13th to the 16th centuries. His 2009 study of the origins of portraiture (The Likeness of the King, Univ. of Chicago Press) was the recipient of the 2009 Morris D. Forkosch Prize for Best Book in Intellectual History. He has also collaborated extensively with art museums. Most recently, he was curator of The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe (Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 2017; catalogue distributed by Yale University Press), a major loan exhibition that shed new light on memento mori imagery and ivory carving in Northern Europe around the year 1500. Prior to that project, he produced work in conjunction with exhibitions of material from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (Object of Devotion, 2010) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Set in Stone, 2006). He is also the author of essays that have appeared in The Art Bulletin, Speculum, Gesta, and elsewhere. At Bowdoin, he teaches courses that cover material ranging from the late antique world of the Mediterranean to the Renaissance in Northern Europe, and addressing the artistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Organised by Dr Jessica Barker (The Courtauld) and Dr Tom Nickson (The Courtauld).
This event is kindly supported by the ICMA.
Drinks reception from 5.30pm, lecture from 6.00pm BST
Register here.