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Momento Mori

Monk:
I am the anonymous brother of an austere religious order, shaven headed to deprive myself of my once sensuous locks. I could be a Jesuit, Carmelite Augustinian Recollect or even a Saint – Ignatious or John – but most importantly I have devoted my life to our Lord Jesus Christ in the belief that the Church of Rome is the one true religion.

The back of your hard, rounded head is gripped in my hand. I’m searching in the deep hollow recesses where your eyes used to be….

Skull:
I am only a skull held tightly in the hand of the holy brother.

But this is trickery and deception. Created with chiarascuro. Light (Chiara) and dark (Scurro). Painterly manipulation of pigment applied sparingly and economically in parts, generous and abundantly in other areas. A clever trick! Our painter is a good magician. He makes the flat surface of a canvas have depth. He makes illusions of us and we advance and receed even though we are not here.

I have seduced you, haven’t I? Fleshless, though I am, you stare at my eyeless sockets and your eyes have the appetite to devour me don’t they!

Monk:
I come from a strictly disciplined order of the church with shared ascetic, self denying ideals; obedience to the church without question, subservience to the Almighty through the example of his son our Lord Jesus Christ and redemption through the grace of God’s gifts in our lives. We believe in poverty, simplicity and the purification of the soul.

Skull:
Your words are not authentic. They are born out of the cultural and social conditions in which you exist. We are simply an image of high drama. An advertisement for the Catholic church designed to bring back the unfaithful; to strengthen; to re inspire and re direct people to your “true way”, after all the dreadful damage and doubt caused by that Martin Luther Reformation etcetera!

Monk:
This is a counter reformation painting about the question of life and death – the right way to live and the right way to die.

Skull:
Ha! So you agree! We are but signs and symbols. I with my fleshless stare appear to be death and you with your rude and ruddy form appear to be life, construced with all your desires and agonies. We’re potent but not the real thing. Not like Real radio or Real Madrid or Coca cola – It’s the real thing!

Monk:
Don’t speak to me in riddles! My light and your darkness reveal the eternal truth that salvation is fraught with endless difficulties and dangers. I am moving towards my salvation if I am good enough and my damnation if I am not. Often I am tempted to wish it could all be different, so easy and so pleasurable, but then I remember the Inquisition and my resolve is soon strengthened.

Skull:
But what about a diamond encrusted skull? Young girls wearing diamante skulls as belt buckles? Glittering jaws resting on their pubic bones. I am come to life on their t-shirts, hanging from their ear lobes and in tattoos on the taught skin at the base of their spines. I am a living celebrity - today!

Monk:
I have heard that the sufferings caused by the Inquisition are as nothing compared to the tortures of Satan and his slaves…… but God…. how I hate this mortal life!

Skull:
Well, I love it - this life! I have heard of the sufferings of eternity but embrace the joys of the moment.

Hinchcliffe & Hodgson. October 2007.
After Ribera’s Monk with Skull, 1630. Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield.

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