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The turn of the skull: Andreas vesalius and the early modern memento mori

Juan, RMS; (2012) The turn of the skull: Andreas vesalius and the early modern memento mori. Art History , 35 (5) pp. 958-975. 10.1111/j.1467-8365.2012.00932.x.

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Abstract

The tradition of the memento mori, in which death is always the reminder of the fleetingness of life and of human achievement, is all too readily applied to early modern Dutch still-life painting. In Andreas Vesalius' 1543 treatise on the human body, this tradition is addressed directly in the celebrated woodcut of a skeleton sadly contemplating a skull. Yet rather than rehearsing the familiar narrative of the memento mori, this image, and the treatise as a whole, seeks to counter this prevailing conception of death. Drawing on the skull and the skeleton, Vesalius' treatise deploys a range of visual strategies in which issues of visibility and invisibility are negotiated in order to redefine the space of anatomical imagery as one in which death is the required condition to learn about life. This crucial reversal could not be openly articulated in the text, but it is enacted by the visual image, especially by dismantling the image's affective power of recognition. © Association of Art Historians 2012.

Type: Article
Title: The turn of the skull: Andreas vesalius and the early modern memento mori
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8365.2012.00932.x
UCL classification: UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences
UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > History of Art
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1324577
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