Mors Pretiosa

Italian Religious Ossuaries

by Ivan Cenzi, Carlo Vannini
2015 Logos Edizioni

“There is a crack, a crack in everything: That’s how the light gets in” sings Leonard Cohen, and this is ultimately the message brought by the bones that can be admired in this book; death is an eternal wound and at the same time a way out. A long way from the idea of cemetery, its atmosphere of peace and the emotions it instils, the term “ossuary” usually evokes an impression of gloomy coldness but the three places in this book are very different. The subjects in question are Italy’s most important religious ossuaries in which bones have been used with decorative ends: the Capuchin Crypt and Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte in Rome, and San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan. Thick with the sensation of mortality and vanitas, these ossuaries are capable of performing a completely unexpected role: on the one hand they embody the memento mori as an exhortation to trust in an afterlife for which the earthly life is a mere preparation and test, on the other they represent shining examples of macabre art. They are the suggestive and emotional expression – which is at the same time compassionate – of a “high” feeling: that of the transitory, of the inexorability of detachment and the hope of Resurrection. Decorated with the same bones they are charged with safeguarding, they pursue the Greek concept of kalokagathìa, namely to make the “good death” even aesthetically beautiful, disassembling the physical body to recompose it in pleasant and splendid arrangements and thereby transcend it. The clear and in-depth texts of the book set these places in the context of the fideistic attitudes of their time and Christian theological traditions whereas the images immerse us in these sacred places charged with fear and fascination. Page after page, the patterns of skulls and bones show us death in all of its splendour, they make it mirabilis, worthy of being admired.

Mors Pretiosa can be purchased here.

This entry was posted in .

2 comments to Mors Pretiosa

  1. Karin Roper says:

    Hello. I’ve just discovered your blog, and have A LOT of catch up reading I am looking forward to. I also have a question…I’ve been to San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan, and Santa Maria della Concezione, but have tried on five different trips to Rome since 2007 to get inside Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte, but it always seems to be closed for restoration. So frustrating. Do you know if it ever opens to the general public?
    Any who – just wanted to say thank you for Bizzarro Bazar, and I look forward to purchasing some of your back issues, most likely the five bundle – such a deal!
    Ciao from San Francisco, though hope to be moving to Italy with my Roman husband within the next few years (recently signed up for Italian lessons), Karin

    • bizzarrobazar says:

      Hey Karin, thanks for reaching out, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! Yes, Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte has been closed for several years now. I’ve heard rumors just recently that it might reopen very soon, I’ll try to check that out. Fingers crossed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.