An Altar of the Dead from 1695

As a followup to yesterday's post, as well as to our post on ossuary chapels, I recently came across the following "Altare dei Morti" -- an altar of the dead. It is, yet again, a reminder that memento mori are a perfectly natural and traditional aspect of Catholic symbolism, whether it pertains to monuments, refectory tables, whole chapels, vestments or altars. 

This particular example is dated to 1695 and is located within Bergamo in the north of Italy, created by Domenico Corbarelli.  

The face of the altar includes a traditional personification of death, pictured as a skeleton wielding a scythe, an hourglass nearby counting the sands of time; in Death's hands is a scroll on which is found the inscription, "Hodie mihi, cras tibi" -- which loosely translated means "me today, you tomorrow" making this intent as a memento rather clear and to the point. To either side of Death are found a skull and crossbones. 

Now let us step back and take a look at the entire altar and some of its other pieces. As we proceed up from the altar itself to the reredos, we find two black columns situated on either side of the painted altarpiece by Domenico Carpinoni. 

The painted altarpiece depicts Pope St. Gregory the Great and Blessed Alberto da Villa d'Ogna interceding for the souls in purgatory before the Holy Trinity, with the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph doing likewise. 

A closer look at the holy souls in purgatory:

Continuing on with the particular theme of this altar, at the very pinnacle of the reredos we find this emaciated figure which is half corpse, half skeleton, done by the sculptor Andrea Fantoni, dated to 1720 -- who also did the other sculptures found on the altarpiece.

Just beneath this is another, regrettably damaged, image, this time of a cherub holding a scroll with the words "Mors et Vita" (Death and Life).

To either side of this are two more angelic figures, the first holding the aspergillum with which to sprinkle the holy water, and the second holding the holy water and itself.

The entire piece is a very powerful reminder of the importance of praying for the dead -- not to mention one's own inevitable death.

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