Something strange happened to funeral monuments in the 15th century. Across France, Italy and England the long standing practice of carving recumbant effigies in poses of gentle rest was replaced by depictions of rotting corpses.
At first, many transi, or “cadaver tombs”, were a two-part, double-decker affair, with the traditional effigy on the top, and a horrorshow cadaver tucked in underneath. These tombs were often designed while the eventual occupants were still alive, and it seems that these extreme memento-mori tombs may have been a way for the rich and powerful to show their contrition before death.
Over the years, new forms evolved, and there are hundreds of extant examples of the art form scattered at cathedrals, parish chuches and museums across northern Europe.
The shriveled corpse of Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk is encased under the peaceful effigy that tops her tomb at St Mary’s Parish Church, Ewelme, Oxfordshire.
The dramatic cadaver tomb of French doctor William of Harcigny is housed at the Laon Museum of Art and Archaeology in Picardy, France.
The double-decker cadaver tomb of Bishop Richard Fleming, founder of Lincoln College Oxford, is a common style with a freshly dead effigy on top, decaying corpse on the bottom. His personal collection of books forms the foundation of the college’s library.
Probably the most famous and arguably the most beautiful transi is that of René de Chalon, which once held his dried heart in its hand. This masterpiece of the macabre is on display at Saint-Étienne church in the city Bar-le-Duc, France.
DIE RICH, LEAVE A BEAUTIFUL CADAVER TOMB
TRANSI OF RENE DE CHALON
Statue of a decomposing Prince that once held his dried heart in its hand
MEMENTO-MORI HAMSTERLEY BRASS
Rare and wonderfully wormy cadaver art captured in brass for centuries
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