In the 17th century funerary monuments in Roman churches began to incorporate explicit images of death. This often took the form of nothing more than a skull, but in some cases death was fully personified, commonly in the shape of the Grim Reaper, with or without his hourglass, and or scythe.
Such an image is known as a memento mori (remember you must die), a reminder to us all of the inevitability of death.
A good example of a memento mori can be found in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The funerary monument of the Roman architect Giovanni Battista Gisleni (1600-72) is made up of his portrait with the inscription 'NEQUE HIC VIVUS' (Neither living here), and the marble sculpture of a skeleton wrapped in a white winding-sheet with the inscription 'NEQUE ILLIC MORTVVS' (Neither dead there).
Above the skeleton are two medallions: one of a chrysalis and the inscription 'IN NIDULO MEO MORIAR' (I shall die in my nest), the other of an emerging butterfly and the inscription 'UT PHOENIX MULTIPLICATO DIES' (As the phoenix I multiply the days).
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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