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 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 inscribed 'NEQUE HIC VIVUS'. Underneath are two medallions; one of a chrysalis inscribed 'IN NIDULO MEO MORIAR; the other of an emerging butterfly inscribed UT PHOENIX MULTIPLICATO DIES. While below is a skeleton wrapped in a white winding-sheet and the inscription 'NEQUE ILLIC MORTVVS'.
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 and
small-group walking tours
Search Walks in Rome: