Jean Morin, Memento Mori (The Skull), an etching after Philippe de Champaigne

France, about AD 1650

A Memento Mori is literally a 'reminder of death'. The clock symbolizes the remorseless passage of time. The flowers in the vase remind us of the brevity of physical beauty (one petal has already fallen). The skull predicts our own appearance in the near future. The Christian theme that our short lives in this world are but a preparation for eternal life in the next was well established in European art.

Morin's skill as an etcher was chiefly directed to reproducing painted portraits. His distinctive use of stipple to supplement etched lines was effective in capturing pale flesh tones: here it is used to model the highlights of the skull. The technique has parallels in the engraved portraits of Ottavio Leoni, but etching allowed Morin (1590-1650) to work on a larger scale, more rapidly, and thus more economically.

Many of his prints, like this one, were made after paintings of Philippe de Champaigne, who achieved a success with his portraits of the royalty and nobility of France, comparable to the fame won by his contemporary van Dyck in England. In middle age he was drawn to an austere form of piety, reflected in this Memento Mori. The original painting is lost.

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Dimensions

Height: 316.000 mm
Width: 319.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1868-6-12-469 (Robert-Dumesnil 39)

PPA49373

Location

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