Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

Exhibition Dates: 
Saturday, Feb 10, 2007 to Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Pale death knocks at poor men’s hovels and king’s palaces alike." Horace, Roman poet, 65–8 B.C.E.

The words of the Roman poet Horace aptly portray the inevitable reach of death into all social strata of a given culture. This transcultural, common denominator has generated centuries of custom and tradition surrounding the passage of life and that which lies beyond. Moreover, such ideas concerning death and the afterlife have resulted in an expansive and diverse legacy of material goods produced by virtually all world cultures.

The exhibition thus examined artistic and functional objects related to death in both western and non-western civilizations throughout history, from ancient times to the modern era. The objects visually express various customs and attitudes related to death, including treatment of the body, preparation of the grave, mourning, belief in the afterlife, and feelings toward mode of death such as suicide and martyrdom. An exploration of the material culture of death reveals its evolution and continually changing world views through 4,000 years of history.

Exhibition Themes

  • burial containers/treatment of corpse
  • burial and post-burial rites
  • grave goods/gifts
  • commemorating the deceased
  • grave markers
  • funerary iconography
  • religious beliefs concerning burial, funeral, and afterlife
Ancient Egypt
Greece and Italy
Graeco-Roman Society
Jewish Practice of Ossilegium
West African Cult of the Dead
Pre-Columbian Afterlife
Pre-Columbian Human Sacrifice
Tibetan Buddhism
Europe and America 1400-Present
Christian Afterlife
Memento Mori
Funerals, Burials and Mourning

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