It’s monday again! This week’s Memento Mori is practical in many ways, but mostly it shows us a practical way of “thinking on death” that I hadn’t touched upon before. Back in the days (we’re talking 15th, 16th century here) people thought coral had magical powers; it would keep away evil spirits, neutralize poison, bring good luck, etcetera. It’s for that second property that they decorated cutlery with it. In those days, it was customary to bring your own cutlery to a formal dinner, and people believed the coral would protect them from any poison their host or fellow guests might try to mix in their food.
The Memento Mori is not really in the cutlery’s design, but in the simple fact that behind its creation and use sat a very conscious thinking on death. If you used coral cutlery on a feast, it meant you had enemies, it meant you were aware of the possibility that you might be poisoned, it meant you had considered the possibility you could die. It’s different from the Vanitas type of Memento Mori, but it is nevertheless an inescapable reminder of mortality…
(First: Dutch, late 17th century, coral and silver-gilt. Second: Polish, 1580, coral and silver-gilt)
(First: Venetian, late 1500, coral and silver-gilt. Second: German, ca. 1600, sculpted coral and silver-gilt. Third: German, 1530-40, coral and silver-gilt.)
In case you like the look of these, you can find modern versions of “coral” cutlery in a variety of stores. They don’t use real coral though. (There was a nice and affordable set in the Zara Home collection but it’s no longer available in red *sadface*, luxury brand L’Objet has an also very nice but much less affordable collection, and I’ve seen lots of pieces on World Market and Amazon.)