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Memento mori pomander, German, 1750-1900

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‘Portzenheimme’ is engraved on the underside of this small wooden coffin. This is possibly a surname. The coffin is thought to be a form of pomander - a vessel which held strong-smelling substances. These were sniffed should the user, for example, pass through a smelly area. Many believed illness could be carried by foul air, so carrying a pomander was a protective measure. This pomander is also thought to be a ‘memento mori’. This literally means a reminder of death. Memento mori prompted people about the shortness of life and the inevitability of death. The coffin is certainly decorated with imagery of death. These include several skull and crossbones, the grim reaper with his scythe, and religious symbols including crosses and a praying figure.

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Glossary: pomander

Small containers for fragrant spices or perfumes originally intended to be carried to ward off infections. Perforated and usually globular, apple-shaped, or composed of fitted sections.

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: mourning

Trial term S&H