Pauls Stradins Museum for history of medicine

“Danse Macabre” An exhibition at the museum

The Pauls Stradiņš Museum of the History of Medicine invites you to think about your own mortality this autumn by learning about two memento mori traditions – the Danse Macabre and the tradition of desk masks.  We also invite you to think about a few useful ways in which a human cadaver can be used.

Danse Macabre is a Medieval allegory of death as something that is victorious over everyone and does not differentiate among tis victims.  During the Middle Ages, this was a depiction of a march of the living and the dead, with skeletons, corpses and people slowly dancing in the direction of a graveyard.  The genre changed over the course of time to a substantial degree, but artists today still think about this process.  The exhibition will feature five sequential cycles of Danse Macabre graphics, showing the participants in the dance over the course of the past five centuries, starting with obedient participants during the Middle Ages and ending with angry dancers who deny death in the 21st century.

The tradition of death masks was most common in Latvia during the 1920s and 1930s, when that was part of collective memory and the strengthening of national identity.  During the Soviet years, death masks were a family traditions.  There are some 100 death masks and casts of hands at Latvian museums, memorial rooms and private collections.  Approximately one-half of them are displayed in this exhibition – a whole series of objects from Latvia’s 20th century intelligentsia.  Also on display is the only death mask that is known to have been produced during the 21st century – that of the composer Leonīds Vīgners, who passed away in 2001.

Three personal objects – parts of living and dead people – will lead us to think about whether and how we can continue to provide services to life after we die.

During the exhibition there will also be a cycle of discussions, “Mortally Interesting Conversations.”  The first will begin at 5:30 PM on November 4 at Antonijas Street 1, where sociologist Vita Zelče and musicologist Mārtiņš Boiko will talk about death, mourning and grave traditions.

The exhibition will open on October 28.

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