Figure of Death (Memento Mori)

Hans Leinberger1520s (Renaissance)

The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, United States

This is an outstanding example of a memento mori, or "reminder of death": a gruesome skeleton clothed in tattered flesh holds a scroll bearing the Latin inscription, "I am what you will be. I was what you are. For every man is this so." That the artist--probably Hans Leinberger--has depicted the cadaver in a graceful pose that mimics that of Adam in Albrecht Dürer's famous engraving of Adam and Eve is probably intentional; it was due to Adam's sin that humans were subject to death. This carving was surely made for a sophisticated collector--Archduke Ferdinand of Austria owned one also attributed to Leinberger (see wikipedia) that is not quite so well proportioned--and such a collector would have recognized the source of the pose. The complexity of the carving of this statuette demonstrates the qualities of boxwood, that the gut could be hollowd out and skin peeled away without the form collapsing.


  • Title: Figure of Death (Memento Mori)
  • Date Created: 1520s (Renaissance)
  • Physical Dimensions: h24.7 cm
  • Type: statuettes; figurines
  • Rights: Acquired by Henry Walters, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
  • External Link: The Walters Art Museum
  • Medium: boxwood
  • Sculptor: Hans Leinberger
  • Provenance: Henry Walters, Baltimore [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
  • Place of Origin: Germany
  • Inscriptions: [Translation] Inscribed in Latin on scroll: I am what you will be. I was what you are: For every man is this so.
  • ExhibitionHistory: World of Wonder. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1971-1972; The Allure of Bronze. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1995; Highlights from the Collection. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1998-2001; A Renaissance Gem Revealed: Petrarch's Triumphs Disbound. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2002

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