"The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe”

The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) will soon open a groundbreaking exhibition on the visual culture of mortality and morality in early Renaissance Europe. On view from June 24 to November 26, 2017, The Ivory Mirror: The Art of Mortality in Renaissance Europe reveals how, in an increasingly complex and uncertain world, Renaissance artists sought to address the critical human concern of acknowledging death while striving to create a personal legacy that might outlast it. Curated by Stephen Perkinson, Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Art History at Bowdoin College, The Ivory Mirror brings together exceptional examples of memento mori, a genre of artistic and literary imagery that emerged in the early Renaissance to remind viewers of their inevitable death, to question how art historians have conventionally interpreted these objects and to propose new ways of considering their significance. In conjunction with the exhibition, a dynamic series of public programs throughout the summer and fall, ranging from film screenings to gallery talks to interdisciplinary programs with health care experts and scholars, will provide illuminating perspectives on death and the choices we make in life. An international symposium will convene distinguished scholars to address the intersection between a fascination with death, luxury, and new techniques of representation in Renaissance Europe.


The Ivory Mirror will bring together nearly seventy exquisite artworks, many of which have never been seen before in North America, from European and American institutions—among them the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and The Huntington Library in San Marino. New scholarship across the humanities features critical new discoveries, such as the attribution of several ivories, of previously uncertain authorship, to Chicart Bailly, a prosperous ivory carver active in Paris from at least the 1490s until 1533. The precious objects included in the exhibition—from ivory prayer beads and gem-encrusted jewelry to exquisitely carved small table sculptures—draw attention in spectacular fashion to the depictions of death, dying, and decay that proliferated in popular culture between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, when mortality rates were perilously high. The appeal of objects featuring macabre imagery urging us to “remember death”— and, by implication, to consider how best to take advantage of our time on earth—reached the apex of its popularity around 1500, when artists treated the theme in innovative and compelling ways.

Art Opening, Exhibition

June 24, 2017 5:00 PM through November 26, 2017

Bowdoin College Museum of Art
245 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine
Open Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday; 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.