London – Kensington and Chelsea (Borough of) – Victoria and Albert Museum (Soul at Death)

Well, this is, er, frightening. And, that was actually the aim of this sculpted piece from the 1620s, designed by Giovanni Bernardino Azzolini. Individuals bought these items for devotional purposes, to remind them that prayer would ensure that they didn’t end up in hell or purgatory. This wax sculpture depicts what happens at the time of death, when the soul makes its journey into what is hopefully heaven after judgement day has taken place.

I’m really not sure that I’d want this, I would have thought there are more inspirational pieces to encourage one to engage in a life of prayer. There’s an inscription on the back which reads ‘Mors malis vita bonis’ or ‘Death to the bad, life to the good’. This whole ‘Memento mori’, or being reminded of death, seems to have been much more common in previous centuries and I’m not sure whether it’s because families were more reminded of death or because we’ve become somewhat afraid to tackle the subject today.