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One side of this carved ivory head shows a human face crawling with worms; the other side shows a skull crawling with toads after the worms have eaten away at the flesh. Not much is known about this model, but it is thought that it is a memento mori – literally a reminder of death and the shortness of life. The skull was the symbol of death from the 1500s onwards. Previously death was represented as a skeleton accompanied by a living victim. The model was purchased from a private collection in Rome, Italy, in 1932.

Loan: Wellcome Trust

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