Schädelkult (Skull cult)


Asia Naga scull (c) REM Mannheim

Asia Naga scull (c) REM Mannheim

The Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums in Mannheim is currently presenting their exhibition “Schädelkult” (“Skull cult”):

“.. which focuses on […] the importance of head and skull in the cultural history of man, […] a subject that spans many cultures and times. Whether millennia-old cups, artfully embellished headhunter trophies or religiously- revered skull relics, as a monument to transience or as an archaeological sensation: the phenomenon “Skull Cult” looks back on a long cultural history.”

Sadly, it was not allowed to make pictures inside, so one can only refer to the pictures, displayed by the REM-Museum on their website. Of course, all pictures in this posting are copyright by the REM and their sources. In Germany it’s better to mention this explicitly, or else you’ll have a whole bunch of laywers with socalled “Unterlassungsklagen” (a.k.a. injunctions) in your neck. But hey, this blog is hosted in the US! Anyway…

Schädelkult (c) REM Mannheim

Schädelkult (c) REM Mannheim

The picture on the flyer is the deathmask of Schiller, but the skull inside isn’t his. There was a slight mix-up during the exhumation of Schiller from his grave, which he shared with a few unknown contemporaries: they then selected the best-fitting skull to the deathmask. So maybe it’s him, maybe it isn’t. Who cares?

Reason for the exhibition is:

“.. the 2008 rediscovery of the impressive skull collection held by artist and Darwinist Gabriel von Max (1840-1915). It was one of the biggest collections of its kind and included objects from the Americas, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Europe. In 1917, the collection passed into the possession of the now Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums through a purchase by the City of Mannheim. Large sections of the roughly 500 objects in the collection went to the University of Freiburg, within the bounds of an exchange. After the war, they were regarded as missing. Only two years ago, the collection was rediscovered in another skull collection in Freiburg.”

Fascinating to see the old pictures of von Max’s laboratory (no, no pictures of it here), where his collection was on display: every room filled with skulls and skeletons on display. Most were human, but in the centre was a complete skeleton of an elephant and a gorilla – huge!

The flyer is good, but only in German.

Of course there were some shrunken heads and trophies from South America too.

Trophy skull (c) REM Mannheim

Trophy skull (c) REM Mannheim

African calebash with jaws (c) REM Mannheim

African calebash with jaws (c) REM Mannheim

And yes, skulls have been used to make musical instruments too! (No picture sadly)

Europa (c) REM Mannheim

Europa (c) REM Mannheim

In the south of Germany it was quite usual to exhume the dead after 50-75 years in order to make place for others and then display the bones in a bone-house (Knochenhaus). Apparently von Max has ‘borrowed’ a few skulls from some of these to complete his collection.

Oh, and René Descartes‘ skull was there too:

“I think, therefore I am

a.k.a.

“René Descartes was a drunken fart:
‘I drink, therefore I am!’ “

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2 thoughts on “Schädelkult (Skull cult)

    • ..maar wel mooi!

      Overigens…toen ik dit artikel zelf las op het werk (dus zonder ingelogd te zijn), kreeg ik van goegl passende reclame erbij: een Alzheimer-medicament! Die goegl-reclames zijn bijna-perfect, maar toch nèt effe ernaast. 😉

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