Matteo de Milano (active:about 1492 - about 1523 Rome and Ferrara )
Historiated initial 'D'(ilexi) of a woman (Duchess Dionora?) with a skull for a face admiring herself in a hand mirror, and a partial scatter border with gems, flowers, and vases, at the beginning of the Office of the Dead.
From Book of Hours, Use of Rome ('The Hours of Dionora of Urbino') (Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere)
c. 1510-1515 (between 1509 and 1538)
Illuminated manuscript 207 x 140 mm
Yates Thompson 7, f. 174
The British Library, London
Matteo da Milano was one of the most important Italian illuminators working in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. Originally from Milan, Matteo worked largely in Rome and Ferrara.
His clientele included the richest and the most powerful of his time
This Missal page is from The Office of the Dead. There is a reminder: "Memento Homo" (Remember Man)
It is short for: Memento homo quod cinis es et in cinerem reverteris : Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you will return
Death is gazing on her reflection in the looking glass.
It is a call to remember the finite nature of human life. And remember the need to pray for the souls of the departed. Their need will one day be our need. It recalls the need for humility and repentance
It is an invitation to reflect upon death as the gateway to eternal life.
The Missal was made for Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino (31 December 1493 – 13 February 1570)
one of the most powerful and richest (and most beautiful) women in what is now called Italy
Here is her portrait by Titian which is now in the Uffizi
Titian (1490 - 1576)
Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga
Oil on canvas, 114 x 102 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
It is one of a double portrait. Her husband`s is the other and hangs also in the Uffizi.
Her portrait is quite human. Beside her is a sleeping dog, a symbol of fidelity. There is also a clock: a symbol of wealth as well as a reminder of the finiteness of human existence. In the distance in the blue yonder is a church
The Duchess was buried in the Church of Santa Chiara in Urbino, Italy.
There seems at present to be a rather strange and unholy fashionable practice in certain Italian academic circles to examine the remains of the dead, purportedly for "scientific" purposes. Unfortunately the Duchess has not been immune from this rather bizarre and unhealthy practice.
See Titian's secret: comparison of Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere's skull with the Uffizi portrait. (J Forensic Sci. 2005 May;50(3):602-7)
Other victims of this practice are the Medicis buried in Florence
This practice should cease
In an important letter written while Bishop of La Crosse, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke summarised clearly and succinctly Catholic practices in regard to the dead. Here is what he said about "after death":
"The word which early Christians gave to the place for the burial or entombment of the dead, cemetery, comes from the Greek word for dormitory. It expresses the belief of the Christian that the bodies of the dead rest in their place of burial or entombment until the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. Like the Christian grave or tomb, the Catholic cemetery is sacred and is to be maintained accordingly. "