Cadaver tomb

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Masaccio_trinity.jpg
Beneath Masaccio's fresco of the Trinity painted in 1425-28 in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, is a painted representation of a cadaver tomb

A cadaver tomb (or "memento mori tomb", Latin for "reminder of death") is a sarcophagus that resembles a carved stone bunk-bed with the deceased shown alive on the top level (life-sized and often kneeling in prayer) and in death on the bottom level, in the grave and complete with worms, rot, and shroud. The term is sometimes used for a tomb that shows only the "cadaver" (= rotting corpse) without the live person. It is intended as an allegory about how we are all going to end up and, thus, how transient earthly glory is. A depiction of a rotting cadaver in art (as opposed to a skeleton) is called a transi.

Beginning in the 15th century, cadaver tombs were a departure, in tomb architecture, from the usual practice of showing merely an effigy of the person as they were in life.

These tombs were made only for high-ranking nobles, usually royalty or bishops, because one had to be rich to afford to have one made, and powerful to be allotted space for one in a church. The tombs for royalty were generally double tombs, for a king and queen, and are the ones usually meant by the term "cadaver tomb."

The first English cadaver tomb constructed is in Lincoln Cathedral (England). It is the one of Bishop Richard Fleming who founded Lincoln College, Oxford and died in 1431. In Canterbury Cathedral is the cadaver tomb of Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury (1414 - 1443). The tomb prepared for John Wakeman remains in Tewkesbury Abbey. Wakeman was abbot of Tewkesbury Abbey 1531 - 1539, When the abbey was dissolved, he retired, and he later became 1st bishop of Gloucester. He prepared the tomb for himself, with vermin crawling on his carved skeletal corpse, but never used it; he is buried in Forthampton.

Some of the finest examples of cadaver tombs are those of the French kings in Saint Denis Basilica.

See also: cemetery, tomb

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