Robbers, prostitutes, and fallen tightrope walkers: the craniums in the Hyrtl Skull Collection in the Mütter Museum at College of Physicians of Philadelphia are fractured remains of imperfect lives.
Reports last month suggested that the skull of playwright William Shakespeare was no longer in his grave.
A huge, distorted skull appears like a slash across Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1533 “The Ambassadors,” and it’s only when viewed from an angle that the death’s head emerges from the painting in three dimensions. It’s one of the most famous uses of anamorphosis, but how to communicate this unique omen of impending mortality in a more personal way?
The skull is a universal symbol of mortality, appearing in artworks by everyone from Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer to Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.