The past as a memory of the future

Ancient funerary art considered the grave as a threshold in which life and death, memory and oblivion, past and future were associated and exchanged roles in the present. In this sense, the funerary monument is the site of a unifying transformation: where death joins life, representing it in memory, and eternal life crosses into death and promises its return. For this reason sarcophagi depict scenes from life, human portraits, mythological events and characters, literal and symbolic writings.

Of particular interest is the frequent sepulchral depiction of the nuptials of the god Dionysus (life that constantly renews itself) and Arianna (the mortal who merges with the divine): indeed the sepulchre that holds the dead, also displays the fruitful deed that renews life.

Unifying transformation of its extremes (mortal and immortal, animal and god, human and divine, heavenly and earthly), the mask is a peculiar symbol for the sepulchre. Since the earliest times the mask has hinted in fact to the realm of the dead, but at the same time it brings about in its wearer a transformation that experiences the living memory of the past, the meaning of the figures crossed in the present and the opening of future destiny.

The mask, like the sepulchre as a whole, is the sign par excellence: the embodiment of memory, it represents the figures and the stages of human destiny on earth: from birth to adult sexual maturity and from the incarnation of the eternal parental figures to death. This is how human life is entrusted to signs and writings – traces of the living which endure so that their fame and name resurrect in the present. The virginity of eternal rebirth is like a flower that blooms every time in the recognition that happens now. A fire that illuminates the night for an instant.

Special thanks Carlo Sini, author of the text and drawings.