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Memento mori ring, Europe, 1801-1900

Memento mori ring, Europe, 1801-1900

Credits: National Railway Museum

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‘Memento mori’ translates from Latin as ‘Remember you must die’. This metal memento mori ring is in the form of a large skull and crossbones wedged between two snakes. The skull and crossbones is the traditional symbol of piracy, but also had other meanings. It suggested the ultimate triumph of death over life, for example Shakespeare’s famous scene in which Hamlet holds the skull of Yoric. Such rings were reminders of death. They prompted people about the shortness of life and the inevitability of death. A skull was typically used to represent death from the 1500s onwards. It gradually replaced the common older image of a skeleton leading a living person off to their death.

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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: ring - jewellery

Small circular band worn on the finger; typically circlets of real or simulated precious metal, and frequently set with precious stones or imitations of these, intended for wearing upon the finger either as an ornament or as a token.

Glossary: mourning

Trial term S&H