Often hung from the belt by a ring, this short string of devotional beads consisted of 10 small beads with a larger terminal typically carved on the theme of the memento mori with a conjoined head.
Reminding the owner that human life is transient, one side was carved in life, the other a skull being stripped of its flesh by worms and reptiles. Popular into the 17th century, in the post-Reformation era, some became objects of fascination in a cabinet of curiosities.
The ivory ‘memento mori’ chaplet that appeared for sale at Stride & Son in Chichester, West Sussex, on May 17 comprised 10 graduated beads of probably 19th century date plus a spectacular single bead of around 4.5cm across.
As well as the back-to-back heads of a bearded man was the German inscription across a ribbon der not der biteren tot aller nocht oberst referencing the misery that awaits us all.
The chaplet is quite possibly from the same workshop as another example of the same form with the same inscription in the Thompson collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
It is catalogued as Flemish and late-15th to early- 16th century in date. The item came for sale from a local private collection. Attracting interest from several bidders, it sold at £15,500 against an estimate of £4000-6000.