Memento Mori and a Visit to Bethlem: Events at Barts Pathology Museum

The new series of lectures at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum begins in October, and includes several events that should be of interest to readers of this blog. Most obviously, of course, is the Bethlem event, which takes place on Wednesday 14 November. However, a seminar in October also promises to offer a fascinating perspective on tattooing and psychology. Why do people have themselves tattooed, and what significance do these artworks hold for them? Two speakers explore the topic from an artistic perspective, in an event entitled Tattoos: the New Memento Mori?

Sandra Ann Vita Minchin, a performance and installation artist, has elected to have the painting Vase of Flowers (by Dutch artist, Jan Davidsz de Heem) tattooed on her back. It is part of a project entitled Ars Longa, Vita Brevis, which is a direct response to her own and her father’s cancer diagnoses and the answer to the recurring question “What have I left behind?”  Meanwhile, historian of art Gemma Angel  will discuss her research into the Wellcome Collection’s preserved tattooed human skin collection. Her research aims to explore all aspects of the 300 pieces; from the material properties of the skins as prepared specimens, to the iconography of the tattoos; to the social and historical contexts of their preservation and collection.

On 14 November, two of our most frequent blog contributors will explore various aspects of the history of one of the world’s oldest hospitals for the treatment of mental illness. Bethlem: Worth a Visit? will range from Cibber’s famous statues of ‘raving’ and ‘melancholy’ madness to life at the Victorian Hospital in Southwark, now the Imperial War Museum. ‘Bedlam’ has long loomed large in the popular imagination, becoming a synonym for chaos in Elizabethan times. But how do these assumptions compare with what we know of life in the hospital?

Tickets for both events are free of charge, but must be booked in advance by following this link. Be warned: tickets go very quickly! The Museum is located on the third floor of the Robin Brook Centre, in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Smithfield (nearest tube: Barbican).

tattooed skin

Tattooed Human Skin: Science Museum, London

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5 Responses to “Memento Mori and a Visit to Bethlem: Events at Barts Pathology Museum”


  1. 1 Richard Comaish October 1, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

  2. 2 bellejarblog October 3, 2012 at 2:56 am

    I love the idea of tattoos as memento mori. I know a few people that this would apply to.

  3. 3 Richard Comaish October 6, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    A health trust publishing an uncritical article promoting tattooing is like a health trust publishing an uncritical article promoting tobacco.

    • 4 bethlemheritage October 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      I’m not sure I personally agree with your comparison, Richard, although you are entitled to your opinion. However, I should add, that this post was neither intended to promote tattooing nor representative of the NHS in any way!

  4. 5 Richard Comaish October 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    ‘The path to Hell is paved with good intentions.’


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