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Statue representing the Dance of Death, probably English, 1801-1850

Two skeletons with pipe and drum are depicted by this moulded plaster statue, thought to be of English origin. They are standing in front of a charnel house, stuffed full of skulls. The skeletons are in a scene called ‘Death Calling the Dance.’ It is one of a set of 37 statues representing the dance in which death summons reluctant mortal revellers to join his dance. The story of Death Calling the Dance is reputedly of German origin. The imagery arose in the 1400s when Europe was ravaged by the Black Death and other outbreaks of plague. It was made famous throughout Europe by copperplate engravings, particularly during the 1600s when plague returned in force. The statue is also acts as a ‘memento mori’, literally a reminder of the shortness of life and the inevitability of death. The use of the dance of death and the skeleton to represent mortality was later replaced by the simpler image of the skull.

Object number:

A654860 Pt2

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Glossary:

Glossary: statue

A sculpture in the round representing human or animal figures or small figure groups; a statuette is a smaller sculpture.

Glossary: memento mori

Symbols intended to remind the viewer of death. Memento mori are often objects such as skulls or hourglasses, but can also be written inscriptions.

Glossary: mortality

The number of deaths which occur in a given area or period, from a particular disease, etc.; the average frequency of death; death rate.