One of the most prominent and long lasting themes within art history has been death. Images and symbols of death are a constant within Renaissance and Medieval times, not as a threat, but as a gentle reminder of its existence. When these motifs are present it is referred to as "memento mori", which literally translates to "remember that you must die" and is usually personified through skulls or skeletons.
Memento mori has been predominately seen in still life, portraiture, and narrative paintings such as Caravaggio's Saint Jerome Writing (1606), an image of Saint Jerome translating the Bible with a nearby skull sitting on his desk. Saint Jerome's own skull mirrors that of the resting skull on his desk, emphasizing that human beings die, but the word of God lives on. This is a good example of a largely misconstrued ideal about memento mori; that it is associated with religion. While many images were commissioned by the church in these times, others were produced for wealthy collectors who had no association whatsoever. A more specific type of memento mori, ivory objects or rosaries, had absolutely no link to the church. Originated in Europe in the 1500's, memento mori objects, usually in the form of skulls, were carved out of ivory and although some of these were in the foundational shape of a rosary; multiple heads strung in a bead like fashion, they were not meant to act as one. In a more collectible sense, these again held notions of morality and reminders, meant to be merely viewed and not used for prayer. These objects were actually essential to another trend of the time, a curiosity cabinet. These cabinets acted as a collection of memento mori objects and other strange items such as taxidermy creatures, archeology items, and historical relics.