Diana Dors c. 1956
Your Corpse Will Never Look This Good
Contemporary burial practices suck. They put a suit or dress on you, throw you in a box, and stick you in the ground, doomed to an eternity of looking boring. It wasn’t always like that, and art history scholar Dr. Paul Koudounaris’s photos of skeletons covered in bling prove it. You might remember some of his photos from 2011’s The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses. Now, Koudounaris has a follow-up book called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, which also features bedazzled dead people. But according to the author, that’s where the similarities end. “They are very different—almost diametric—projects,” he says. “Because it deals with identity, Heavenly Bodies is in effect much more intimate.”
Koudounaris started documenting skeletons in earnest less than five years ago while photographing East German charnel houses, aka vaults full of dead bodies. “These skeletons became my life,” he says. “I felt like it was some kind of divine dictate that I was supposed to tell this story.”
While there had been articles about the skeletons in academic journals (mostly in Germany, where many of the bones are located), as well as a few doctoral dissertations, nobody had ever treated them as works of art. “They approached them as historical objects or devotional objects, but that, I think, is missing the point,” Koudounaris says. “To a modern audience that’s going to appreciate them, it’s because they’re incredible works of art, and that’s the context I wanted to create for them.”
Just in time for Halloween!
plus 3 prior posts…
What is Moldavite?
(Pictured above: museum grade moldavite. Image source: Wiki Commons)
Moldavite has perplexed humans for centuries. Space gem? Elusive mineral? What is it?
Moldavite is in fact not a mineral at all, but an impact glass, or tektite - an amorphous, glassy substance formed from the heating, melting, and subsequent re-solidifying of impact rock during a meteorite impact. Found completely in Bohemia and Moravia, and named after the town Moldauthein, moldavite was originally identified by a scientist named Suess in 1900 as meteoritic in origin due to its characteristic fern-like patterns, which are present on certain types of meteorites.
Nevertheless, chemical composition, isotope analysis, and similarity to volcanic glasses like obsidian suggest that the glass is indeed made of Earth materials, and formed from a hypervelocity impact 15 million years ago. There is some dispute as to where the impact occurred, but most support the Nördlinger Ries locality.
Impact glasses form when the heat of an impactor melts ground material. This material is ejected and cools in the air as well as on the ground, forming impact glasses. Other examples of impact glasses are Libyan Desert glass, a smooth, dull, yellowish glass found in the Libyan Desert and thought to have been formed from sand, and Darwin Glass, which ranges from black to light green and originates from Darwin Crater, Australia, likely formed from shales.
N.B.: Aways be careful when purchasing moldavites for samples or as jewelry - they are neither from space, nor gems or crystals! Moldavites are still frequently misunderstood as the “only gem from space.” In fact, the only gem from space is indeed green and is actually olivine, found in pallasite meteorites.