An Unusual & Rare 17thC Memento Mori Lateen Heart Shaped Casket 1677

Origin: English
Period: Charles II
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1677
Height: 2.75”
Width: 2.75”
Depth: 1”

The unique and hugely intriguing copper alloy or ‘lateen’ (zinc and copper) heart shaped casket, possibly once containing the heart of a deceased child, the relic having been found on an archaeological dig, having a hand-engraved skull and cross bones motif to the centre with the (presumed) parents initials either side of T.W. F.W. and the initials of the child, T.W. below with DIED DESEMBER [sic] 5 1677’, the whole of appropriate size, presented in a later Perspex case with annotations and surviving from the last quarter of seventeenth century England.

The fact that the casket has survived underground for three hundred plus years is wonderful, it has taken on an otherworldly jade colour in its Verdigris, there is a crack running from the top towards the centre as photographed with some loss to the top rim with the base caved in to one side. It has not been cleaned inside or out which is very pleasing.

The metal at the time would have been described as lateen, and entries using this term can be found in texts of this period such as; “Item a pyxe of lateen metal with ye ornements thereof. Item two crewetts of pewter and a payre of censers and one ship of lateen for frankincense.”

The casket is presented in a mid-20thC Perspex case with a typewritten label '17TH CENTURY CHILDS HEART BURIAL CASKET' and further note;

’'This small heart shaped box may once have contained the heart of a child. It is made of an alloy called 'Lateen' [sic], a mixture of zinc and copper. The heart was thought to hold the "soul" and in certain circumstances was removed for separate burial. Etched on the lid are possibly the initials of the mourning parents T. W. and F. W. beneath a crude grinning skull and cross bones, the universal symbol of death are [above] the child’s initials T. W. Could have been named after the father? Finally the inscription 'DIED DESEMBER 5 1677" No it is not a mistake December is spelt with an S"

Symbolic of the transience of all human existence, the image of the skull has been used by philosophers and theologians, artists and sculptors, writers and poets for centuries to provoke meditative thought on the indiscriminate nature of death. Memento Mori pieces are designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the brevity and fragility of human life in the face of God and nature. We presume the child was a boy and named after the father. Occasionally one sees heart shaped lockets and the like of this period and they usually feature a profile portrait of King Charles.

The year of 1677 saw the politicians the Earl of Shaftesbury, Duke of Buckingham, Lord Wharton and the Earl of Salisbury being arrested and sent to the Tower of London for challenging the legitimacy of the new session of Parliament, and the monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke being completed. Elsewhere, Father Louis Hennepin of Belgium, exploring North America, becomes the earliest known European person to discover Niagara Falls, and the first to report its existence in writing; "Betwixt the lakes Ontario and Eire there is a vast prodigious Cadence of water which falls down after a surprising and astonishing manner, inasmuch that the Universe does not afford its parallel.”

A highly emotive and fascinating piece, of museum quality, and well worthy of extensive research.