Skull collection provide a humorous perspective of death

20/7/12 – Skull Collection

The other day, my boyfriend decided to show me his skull collection, which had been removed from the closet. The skulls appear to be made from ceramic, although I’m not quite sure whether the skulls were used as ornaments or toys. The skulls are also wearing different hats, which resemble policemen, fishermen and pilots, which also provides each skull with a different personality or appearance.

The skulls also feature humorous expressions, which is composed with the different outfits that mimic or replicate the living. The skulls may have been influenced by European Renaissance art, which also features the image of death ridiculing the living, which has also become a popular representation within the Day of the Dead celebration.

Antoni Cadafalch argues that the Dance of Death by Hans Holbein has influenced the art and the design from the Day of the Dead celebration. Hans Holbein was a prominent artist during the Renaissance era who projected the image of death as a dominant or fearful figure that would terrorise the living. (Cadafalch, 2011 p. 7)

According to Chloe Sayar, the skeletal figurines that are sold during the Day of the Dead festival feature various outfits, which also replicate living subjects in a humorous manner. Instead of creating fear through sinister or morbid interpretations of death, the Day of the Dead festival injected humour into their illustrative decorations or designs. (Sayar, 2009 p.119)

Hans Holbein: The Noble Lady from Dance of Death 1524 – 1526

Regina M Marchi has provided a very interesting perspective of the Dead of the Dead celebration within American popular culture. Marchi also provides an overview of Mexico’s cultural and spiritual celebration of the dead through contemporary art and design that is designed specifically for the celebration in order to reunite the living with the dead.

Marchi also mentions Jose Posada, a Mexican artist whose work also featured skeletal figures participating in everyday activities or chores. Posada’s work influenced the Day of the Dead festival, including the style and the representation of death. Posada’s work has also inspired Popular Culture and advertising, such as Espolon Tequila who may have appropriated the artist’s work.(Marchi, 2009 p.26)

Skeletal figurines from the Day of the Dead Festival 

The Dance of Death from Holbein also features skeletal figures wearing extravagant outfits or costumes, which may feature similarities to the Day of the Dead celebration. Perhaps the skull ornaments resemble certain elements from Renaissance art and the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico. The skulls also appear to be grinning or smirking, which may adopt a positive or humorous approach to death.

Perhaps Holbein’s and Posada’s work exemplify that the skull has been a popular image or representation for centuries, which will continue to inspire contemporary art and design.

Jose G Posada: Calavera Oaxaqueña, 1910

Sayar, Chloe. Fiesta: Days of the Dead & Other Mexican Festivals.  Texas: University of Texas Press, 2009 p.119

Cadafalch, Antoni. The Day of the Dead: El Dia De Los Muertos.  London: Koreno Books, 2011 p. 7

Marchi, Regina.M. The Day of the Dead in the USA: The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural phenomenon.  New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2009. p.26

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