(photos from Empire de la Mort.)
Usually we try to reign in our morbid interests right at the point where life ends and death begins, but in this case, we make an exception for our friend artist, photographer, writer Paul Koudounaris. After years of travel and photography, Koudounaris has produced the exquisitely illustrated and painstakingly researched The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses now available for pre-order from Amazon. Here is the description from the site:
From bone fetishism in the ancient world to the painted skulls of Salzburg: an unusual and compelling work of cultural history.
It is sometimes said that death is the last taboo, but it was not always so. For centuries, religious establishments constructed decorated ossuaries and charnel houses that stand as masterpieces of art created from human bone. These unique structures have been pushed into the footnotes of history; they were part of a dialogue with death that is now silent.
The sites in this specially photographed and brilliantly original study range from the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Palermo, where the living would visit mummified or skeletal remains and lovingly dress them; to the Paris catacombs; to fantastic bone-encrusted creations in Austria, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and elsewhere.
Paul Koudounaris photographed more than seventy sites for this book. He analyzes the role of these remarkable memorials within the cultures that created them, as well as the mythology and folklore that developed around them, and skillfully traces a remarkable human endeavor. 250 full-color and 50 black-and-white photographs.
Koudounaris has also launched the supplemental site Empire de la Mort where a rich foretaste of the publication’s wonders are available.