Halloween is this Thursday.  With all the skeletons, witches and ghosts decorating homes these days. This week I think it’s the best time to talk about art collection of remember death  and the famous Latin phrase “Memento mori “ The expression memento mori developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife.  This phrase is believed to originate from an ancient Rome tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded through town.  As the general basked in the glory of cheering crows, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear.

“Respice post te! Homin te esse memento! Memento mori!” Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!

I collected my favourite artwork which I want to share not only would these paintings look bad as is hanging in your home, they may also help remain that life is short and too short for wasting time. I found one common denominator in the works of art we have gathered for these witches and Memento mori and whether from Europe or other country, all serve as reminders to the moral that life is transient and volatile and that the believer must adhere to religious guidelines in order to safeguard a better here and after. 


My first Witch the one of the most famous Durer’s witch.  She is a shrieking siren, lithe and naked, her beautiful hair streaming forwards as she rides backwards on a cloven-hoofed goat. Hers witchcraft is abnormal, it reverses all human order.


And the next amazing and really scary paintings “Witches in the Air”  This an oil on canvas painting completed in 1798 by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. It was part of a series of six paintings related to witchcraft acquired by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna in 1798. It has been described as “the most beautiful and powerful of Goya’s Osuna witch paintings.” In the center of the painting, three semi-nude witches aloft a writhing nude figure, their mouths close to their victim, as if to devour him or suck his blood. Below, two figures in peasants’ garb recoil from the spectacle: one has thrown himself to the ground covering his ears, the other attempts to escape by covering himself with a blanket, making the “figa” hand gesture to ward off the evil eye. Finally, a donkey emerges on the right, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the scene. On the Aelbert jansz van der Schoor painting – Still Life with Skulls on the table (I really like here documents with wax seals) from 1660 with moralizing purpose quite opposed to the Latin “Nunc est bibendum” now is the time to drink.


Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth, 1783 (detail) by Henry Fuseli, they do not look like women, young or old; they are quite simply men. Their heads arrayed in profile like the open blades of a Swiss Army knife have prominent noses, strong throats and craggy chins. 


Next paintings with witch or maybe not……. Luis Falero’s beautiful Witch from 1880 is painted as a highly-finished nude, with a mythological or fairy-tale setting, supernatural. She is like as bacchanalian Sabbat-scenes.


The next it is amazing installation of the light skeletons created by Janne Parviainen. 


Below  beautiful, unique ring from a collage of mine of a vintage french postcard A Pierrots Love (LAmour de Pierrot) mixed with decorative papers and the words Memento Mori I find on the art auction.


Just at last moment I find this photos of the from a 12th-century be-jeweled bronze reliquary arm from Belgium to a wooden club carved into the shape of a skeleton from Tibet.


We have to remember that Today’s Halloween customs are also thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows day also known as All Saints on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, thus giving the holiday on October 31 the full name of All Hallows’ Eve.


 I can’t forget to add some very traditional in an academic style, William-Adolphe Bouguereau painting entailed “The Day of the Dead” from 1859.

In France, German, Poland, Hungarian cemeteries are busy this weekend of remembrance and chrysanthemums are on sale on every street. On this 1st November Day all people stream to the graveyards with offerings flower a special grave light


                                Don’t offer them to your hostess when invited out for dinner! They are for the dead. 

All Saints’ Day is represented by paintings and images of many saints together. The saints may surround or look towards a figure representing Jesus and be accompanied by angels. Saints are often represented with a golden halo above or behind their heads. In some areas of Germany, a Newweling symbolizes All Saints’ Day.


A Newweling is made of two or more candle wicks dipped in wax and wrapped around a cone shaped form. The form is removed before the candle is lit. Traditionally, each candle wick is dipped in red, white, blue, yellow or green wax and two or more different colors are used for each candle. Halloween is not celebrated in central Europe but All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day is, they are comparable but radically different. Instead of glorifying the world of the dead by dressing up in ghoulish apparel, the Poles and Hungarians first honor the dead saints and then go and visit the hallowed ground upon which their past family members have been laid to rest. 



All Saints’ Day is one of the most popular holidays in Poland and Hungary that people celebrate. It’s a sentimental kind of national holiday in Poland and Hungary that lasts two days, the 1st and 2nd of November after fall has taken hold and the winter is soon upon us. Unlike the fantastical representation of everything dark, sinister and frightening, like the American holiday of Halloween, death is nothing unusual here. 


I’m sure there are more interesting paintings that I haven’t mentioned below and many different traditions, however now all children a taste for dressing up and A ring on the doorbell, followed by “trick or treat?”, is heard in households in many countries (Poland, France, German and Hungary too) around the world each 31st October. 


Trick or Treat! Give me something good to eat. Give me candy. Give me cake. Give me something sweet to take! 



About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

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