Date Made/Found: around 1600
Material and Medium: iron and steel, ivory
Dimensions: Overall: 210mm (8 1/4in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2004.268
This knife has an ivory handle that is surmounted with a carved skull. It was made in London around 1600.
Objects decorated with skulls, or works of art including depictions of skulls, are often referred to as 'memento mori' (loosely translated from Latin as 'remember your mortality'). They were sometimes used to commemorate a death or to help remember a deceased person.
Queen Victoria revived the fashion for memento mori as she endured a long period of mourning for her husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1861. This new interest in remembering the dead is sometimes referred to as the 'cult of mourning'.
Brooches made from Whitby jet were very popular at this time and were worn as a symbol of mourning. Cheaper versions were made in Sheffield using pressed buffalo horn imported from the United States and India. Pendants containing locks of hair from deceased relatives were also worn as memento mori.
Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Museums Sheffield, 2003