Memento Mori, after Philippe de Champaigne
32.1 cm x 31.9 cm (12 5/8 in. x 12 9/16 in.)
(Paris, circa 1590 - 1650, Paris)
Medium and Support:
Etching and engraving
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Karen G. and Dr. Elgin W. Ware, Jr. Collection, 1996
If limited in subject and even number of plates, Jean Morin was the most subtle etcher in seventeenth-century France. All of his work was reproductive, mostly after paintings by the solemn classicist Philippe de Champaigne. Morin interpreted these works in a mode inspired as much by naturalistic painting as by printmaking, employing an extremely varied and flexible mark. His rare landscapes and devotional works capture the most fleeting and evocative qualities of light and surface. Most of his work consists of portraits of the size and bust format that was becoming conventional in France.
The Memento Mori records a famous lost composition by Champaigne. The motifs alone—the skull set between an open timepiece and a vase of roses—would symbolically express the transient nature of existence. But their contrived arrangement and exquisite rendering underscore the futility of attachment to the material world. As a reminder of the ashes to which all persons will return, it is also a somber retort to the ubiquitous portrait prints of the day. This impression is laid down on a heavy eighteenth-century sheet with a severely drawn border. It was probably posted as a funerary announcement. Because of such adaptations, very few impressions have survived.