Memento Mori: Bones and Precious Stones in Art and Design


Just in case we start getting carried away with living life to the max, artists, designers and craftspeople like to remind us of our own mortality once in a while.

The concept is called ‘Memento Mori,’ and it took its most extravagant form with Damien Hirst’s controversial 2007 sculpture ‘For the Love of God.’ But Hirst is not the only creative soul with a fondness of juxtaposing death and human vanity.

Here are six examples from the worlds of Art and Craft design which have used bones – and occasionally gold and precious stones – to make a point.

Damien Hirst – ‘For the Love of God’ (2007)

Costing $14 million to make, Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull sculpture attracted plenty of controversy from the start. The artist explained that he was inspired by the Aztecs with their decorative art and attitude towards death.

Faced with our own mortality, humans disguise death as something else. What does it do for you? Is it frightening? Does it transcend death or does it mock human attempts to ignore it?

‘For the Love of God,’ a 3d-printed platinum cast of a real human skull, is set with 8,601 flawless diamonds. Part of Hirst’s intention was to represent the link between the diamond trade itself and death (the diamonds used in the work are said to be ethically sourced).

The skull itself was bought in Islington and has been dated to the 18th or early 19th Century. It is thought to be from a man around 35 years of age and the original teeth were added to the cast.

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Joris Laarman – ‘The Bonechair’ (2008)

Dutch designer, artist and emerging tech entrepreneur Joris Laarman wanted to mimic the way in which bones actually grow in his ‘bonechair.’ After all, if bones are designed by nature to support our bodies then it makes sense to design furniture in the same way.

Laarman lab works at the intersection of human craftsmanship and computer wizardry and his experimental approach is similar to the process of evolution: plenty of trial and error and in the end an end result that is almost magical. The materials used in these fascinating chairs are marble and porcelain mixed with resin.

Laarman bonechair was added as the closing works of the 20th Century collection at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

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Luke Twigger – ‘Skullmate’ (2010)

The jaunty ceramic skulls of the Skullmate collection even contain their own soft brains in the form of cute little cushions. British designer Luke Twigger brings art, craft and design together in these characterful skulls. He explains that art creates problems and design solves them. Craft, of course, is needed to actually make the pieces themselves.

So while you’re contemplating your own mortality you can still organize your home by storing away your bits and bobs. Inspired by the city of Nottingham, Twigger even created a Robin Hood inspired Skullmate with a feathered green wool cushion brain.

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Pool – ‘Souviens Toi Que Tu Vas Mourir’ (2011)

The French Pool studio didn’t beat around the bush when they named these chairs. Designed around the theme of a skull, these variations on the widespread mono-block chair are simply called, ‘Souviens toi que tu vas mourir,’ which translates as, ‘Remember that you will die.’

As artistic objects, the fiberglass chairs are designed to contrast the hard truth of death with the vanity of being seated for comfort.

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Fabio Novembre – ‘Jolly Roger Chairs’ (2013)

Italian architect Fabio Novembre also gets in on the skull chair theme with his rotationally moulded polyethylene Jolly Roger chairs. Available in black and white, these imposing chairs evoke the swagger and thirst for conquest as symbolized by the pirate. Novembre even wears a skull ring and liked to tell his friends that his grandfather was a pirate!

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Harow – ‘Skull Chair’

Finally, we end with a chair that is pure flamboyance, taking the memento mori theme and creating something you might fancy a Bond villain sitting in.

Harow’s Skull Chair is comprised of a steel core encased in 24 carat gold designed to resemble the facets of a diamond. The hardness of the metal is offset by the opulent black velvet seat. At $500,000, this is one of the most expensive modern chairs ever made but it perfectly sums up the human spirit of choosing to live life to the full in the time we have.

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Author BIO:

Ronnie Stone is a home decor and DIY geek, HGTV addict, writer and blogger. He’s currently writing for Octane Seating, the industry’s number one source for quality products, competitive prices and knowledgeable service.

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