To get a better understanding of our Medieval Women class, we went on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went to the Medieval Art wing. After the trip, we were given the assignment to pick an artwork or an object that we liked or thought was interesting and then to write a short paper about what it was. Looking through the medieval section at the Met, I found a fascinating piece of jewelry in particular that caught my attention. It is a pendent that has a man’s and woman’s face on it, but that alone did not catch my eye. It was the fact that on the back of the pendent are two skeletons. Why are there skeletons behind the faces?
I later learned that what I had seen was called a Memento Mori. These are images that remind us to always remember death. I assumed that these two people portrayed on the pendant were lovers because I always find a parallel in love and death. Love and death are the two mysteries of life, and I think they go hand in hand. Freud said that the two motives for living are love and death. A memento mori seemed to fit with what Freud believed about life and death.
It was not until the Middle Ages that life and death started to have a collective meaning. This was the period when people started to think about life and death and what it meant when put together. People had come to feel that death was a rude and abrupt separation from life and that is how memento mori came to be. The pain, the gruesomeness and sadness of death are demonstrated in the memento mori.
Although the memento mori looks gruesome, it does not signify the fear of death. The memento mori expresses the passion for life, the love for life and the sad reality that it is not forever and that it has its painful ending. This is why I relate and agree with Freud’s two motives for living. One cannot avoid nor ignore death. It is there and it will come to all of us. This is why we embrace life and we do things that we love and we are encouraged to live life to fullest.
The memento mori especially fascinated me because I often forget that death comes so unexpectedly and that one can never predict it. Many times I go about forgetting to enjoy the moment and to remind myself that I have to embrace life and do the things that I love because tomorrow may never come. The memento mori was in a sense, a realization of life, love and death for me.
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