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What is Memento Mori?


Memento Mori is the Latin theory and practice of reflecting on our mortality. The term translates as ‘Remember Death’ or ‘Remember, everyone must die’, and serves as an artistic and symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. Throughout human history, the practice of focusing on this theory hasn't been intended to instil fear, but to energise, inspire and motivate: make the most of today, as tomorrow you may not have the luxury.

What is Memento Mori?
Check out our beautiful Memento Mori Jewellery Collection

 

Memento Mori is an idea that has been central to philosophy, art, literature and more throughout human history. It is believed that the concept and practice originated from an ancient Roman tradition. Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, all pondered the meaning of life and found that thinking about death enabled them to better cherish their time on earth.

Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” Seneca

Many cultures and religions practice Memento Mori in different forms. Buddhists, Catholics, Sufis and many others have their own ways of meditating on this theory. And many cultures have developed holidays and practices which evoke a feeling of Memento Mori, such as Mexico's Day of The Dead holiday which serves as a remembrance of friends and family members who have died.

As well as being a conceptual theory and practice, you can also find physical embodiments of Memento Mori - artworks created for the dual purpose of enabling the artist and viewer to contemplate their existence. 

Through the ages, Memento Mori Artworks have taken many forms. From painted portraits of skulls, hour glasses and clocks to bronze sculptures of fruit, flowers and candles. These symbols are common depictions of death in art, and can often be found in a close relation of the Memento Mori art form – Vanitas still life. Read on to learn more about Vanitas art.

Here at Duxford Studios, we have created our own Memento Mori modern heirlooms.

What is Memento Mori?
Our Sterling Silver Bone Charm Necklace is our own take on a Memento Mori artwork.
What is Memento Mori?
And our Gold Vermeil Hand Necklace celebrates our beautiful humanity and connects us to our history.
In fact, all the pieces of ethical jewellery from our collections focus on elements of human life which define us. Our Memento Mori Jewellery Collection in particular, is inspired by life, death and the journey along the way. Each piece is carved from wax and cast into eco sterling silver and gold vermeil, using the ancient process of lost wax casting. Find out what wax casting is here
All of the pieces in the Memento Mori collection are inspired by parts of the human body which have played a role in how our species have evolved over time. Our hands are arguably the most interesting and important part of our anatomy. Opposable thumbs have defined us as a species, enabling us to grasp, manipulate and craft. While our teeth define us, informed by the food we have eaten for centuries. And our femur bones are an amazing part of our anatomy. Their length and strength contribute to our stature and they play a vital role in our ability to stand and move.
To many people today, it seems strange to want to think about death. But at Duxford Studios, we feel that reflecting and meditating on Memento Mori is the simple key to living life to the fullest! It's a tool we use to create meaning. It gives us perspective and urgency and helps us to treat our time as a gift.  
Death is a true equaliser, the one thing that renders us all equal – it happens to every one of us. Rich or poor, brilliant or stupid, it unites each living soul on earth. No one can dodge death, but those who make the most of life fear it the least!
What is Memento Mori?
Another beautiful example of Memento Mori jewellery, our Gold Vermeil Bone Bracelet.

How to Pronounce Memento Mori

Muh · men · tow - mo · ree is the phonetic pronunciation, with the emphasis on the syllables in bold.

What is a Vanitas Still Life?

Vanitas still life paintings were created to remind the viewer of their mortality and worthless value of indulging in worldly possessions and pleasures. The term Vanitas comes from the beginning of the Book of Ecclesiastes found in the Bible ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’.

From the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age Artists used still-life paintings as moral instruction, educating their viewers on how to live a good life. Depicting symbolic objects like skulls, hour glasses, musical instruments, books, wine and fruit, they remind us of the vanity and worthlessness of indulgence.

What is Memento Mori?
Vanitas Still Life, Peeter Sion

 

How to Practice Memento Mori

There are many ways of practicing Memento Mori such as through carrying a physical reminder with you or through meditation and affirmations.

We often subconsciously allow our lives to be ruled by our ego, ignoring the reality of our existence, building an unreal narrative of what it means to be human. But at Duxford Studios, we believe that practicing Memento Mori and keeping it as a close reminder is important. It can be scary to think about life’s finitude (the state of having limits or bounds), but doing this can make life taste better!

Here are way that you can practice Memento Mori, as we do.

1. Physical reminders

A great way to practice Memento Mori is to carry a physical object with you that remind you of the theory. This could be a piece of jewellery, a keyring or anything you like. 

Our founder, Esme's favourite way to practice Memento Mori on a daily basis is to wear a piece of Duxford Studios jewellery each day. It helps to remind her to appreciate the small wins throughout her day, and to feel energised through difficult moments. Esme's favourite pieces are

What is Memento Mori?

Duxford Studios Gold Vermeil Tooth Pendant Necklace

What is Memento Mori?

Our Sterling Silver Bone Bracelet

What is Memento Mori?

And our Sterling Silver Tooth Stud Earrings

All of these celebrate the human anatomy, and by association, what it is to be human. See our full ethical handmade jewellery collection.

2. Meditation

Meditation is the practice of using a specific technique to train attention and awareness. The goal is to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. There are different techniques like Mindfulness practice or Metta practice, or you can focus your mind on a particular object, thought, or activity.

Many people focus on their breath, but using Memento Mori as your focus while meditating can bring a great sense of calm and gratitude, which we find is a great way to start our day. Why not give it a go?

You may be thinking ‘Goodness, it’s morbid to think about death!’ but here at Duxford Studios, we use Memento Mori as our inspiration and the fire in our belly to live each day to its fullest. We don’t dwell on the inevitability of death, but use it to celebrate and cherish the time we have on this fine earth.

3. Affirmations

'Affirmations' are the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment. The belief is that through repeating positive statements to yourself on a daily basis, over time it can foster a change in your mental outlook and can lead to  success.

For example you could try and repeat these statements to yourself each day

  • Everyone must die, so I want to make the most of each day I have on earth.
  • Time is limited, so I will make the most of the time I have today.
  • Life is short, so I will live each moment fully.
What is Memento Mori?

Duxford Studios Sterling Silver Tooth Necklace

What Is a Memento Mori Ring?

A Memento Mori ring, like all Memento Mori jewellery, is a piece of jewellery designed to remind the wearer of their own mortality. Memento Mori jewellery has been created throughout human history, and rings inspired by this Latin theory were popular during the Regency and Victorian eras. Life is uncertain and finite, and there's no period where this was more obvious than during the Victorian era which had some of the highest infant mortality rates in history, alongside other health challenges and tragedies.

Memento Mori rings were worn by a large proportion of the population during this era, from Queen Victoria herself to her poorest subjects. Skeletal ring bands and ring designs with skulls often wearing a crown reminded wearers that death is a certainty for all.

What is Memento Mori?

We created our Sterling Silver Bone Ring as a piece of modern Memento Mori jewellery. Made of ethically sourced sterling silver, this adjustable design is carved into the shape of a femur bone, and can be worn as a physical reminder to live each day as if it's your last. 

Other examples of our Memento Mori jewellery are our Gold Vermeil Bone NecklaceSterling Silver Bone Earrings and our Sterling Silver Bone Necklace.

Duxford Studios creates ethical handmade jewellery inspired by the human form,
modern culture, and the sensation of touch. All of our pieces are cast from hand
carved wax in recycled sustainable sterling silvergold vermeil, and other ​
precious metals. Shop our full collection on our website or get in contact about
custom jewellery design commission. Need help choosing a piece? Read our
full guide on what to look for when buying jewellery on our blog page.