Would you like to wake from dreams with a reminder of your inevitable eternal sleep? An alarm clock currently on view at the British Library in London, which is part of the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition, is a curious continuation of the memento mori tradition.
The clock in question has a grinning skeleton positioned on top of a coffin that he is steering like a ship, which is in turn propped up with tiny skulls below. Presumably when the alarm went off, the skeleton would shake his bones. Part of the collections of Science Museum, London, it’s believed to be of English origin and date between 1840 and 1900.
Terror and Wonder as an exhibition has 200 objects from a span of 250 years, all centered on the Gothic tradition in art, literature, music, fashion, and most recently film. Among objects like the infamous “Dear Boss” letter penned by Jack the Ripper, the first illustration of Dracula, and manuscripts from Mary Shelley, the skeleton clock might not stand out as it would, say, on your nightstand, but it is very much a part of this dark undertone to culture.
From flying hourglasses on tombs to portraits where a person was depicted half-decayed, memento mori — remember that you will die — echoes across centuries of visual creation. It’s also at the base of much of Gothic literature and art, whether it’s the lumbering corpse of Frankenstein resurrected, or the haute mourning-inspired couture designed by Alexander McQueen. And timepieces are perhaps the most prevalent reminder of the passage of moments towards the end, even if your iPhone clock or wristwatch doesn’t have any sort of hollow-eyed skeleton gaping back at you.
The skull as watch is not too rare — Mary Queen of Scots is believed to have given an elaborate skull watch to a maid of honor, a few others are gathered below along with an example of memento mori jewelry. Yet there’s something engaging and playful about the alarm clock in Terror and Wonder, a carpe diem-encouraging blend of humor and the macabre.
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination continues at the British Library (96 Euston Road, London) through January 20.
A new study details the creation of a hyper-flexible material inspired by an unexpected source: the humble sea cucumber.
The extensive exhibition confronts the Netherlands’s often-forgotten colonialist legacy.
The 1,600-year-old fragment was part of a dodecahedron, a mysterious object that experts believe may have been linked to the occult.
The Renaissance work by Francesco Salviati is the museum’s first painting on marble.
The 1969 exhibition 5 + 1, and now Revisiting 5 + 1, are reminders that the history of Black Art in the United States is diverse rather than monolithic.
The artist’s solo US museum debut at the Baltimore Museum of Art is a contemptuous, at times satirical, take on oppression that gives way to a new history.
Ten artists will receive studio space and access to faculty, staff, students, workshops, and programming at an arts institution in the heart of Philadelphia.
Who tells a tale adds a tail: Latin America and contemporary art explores contemporary Latin American art without conforming to external expectations.
Simulation Sketchbook takes as its starting point the reality that digital artists, like all artists, sketch out their work as well.
Twitter’s curbing of free API access could affect accounts posting from museum collections or the archives of long-gone artists.
How does a selective competition fit with the contemporary art world’s aspirations toward greater inclusivity?