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!