Empire of Death: Photos from Crypts, Catacombs, and Bone Churches

By on June 21, 2017

Empire of Death A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses
The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses
by Paul Koudounaris
225 pages
Thames & Hudson

For The Empire of Death Paul Koudounaris visited 18 countries to photograph morbid works of art created from human bones from the 16th-19th centuries, including the Paris catacombs, Capuchin crypts in Italy, Sedlec Ossuary, and many more.

From the book’s description:

From bone fetishism in the ancient world to painted skulls in Austria and Bavaria: 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. 290 photographs, 260 in color

Empire of Death by Paul Koudounaris
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