Pictured above is a 16th century rosary bead of carved ivory.
Institute of Arts
Memento Mori - "Remember Death"
Memento Mori jewelry, including rosaries, with its unflinching use of symbols of death and its purposeful message
"Remember you must die" was widely worn in Western Europe during the sixteenth century and there is one skull rosary that
dates back as early as 1250.
A constant reminder that life is temporary and heaven should be the ultimate goal, its intention was to encourage virtuous living.
As a result of this message, there are many extant pieces in museums and private collections of beads and pendants depicting human bodies in various stages of decay.
Crossed bones, skulls and complete skeletons are represented.
Many have snakes, worms and lizards crawling in and out of the decomposed bodies and skulls.
The majority of the examples are made of crystal, wood or carved bone/ivory. Some skulls open up to reveal tiny carved scenes of the life of Christ.