Artatomical: René de Châlon's Skeletal Guard

Beauty in morbidity. © Fred de Noyelle/Godong/Corbis

Here we see a stark reproduction of the skeleton form the tomb of René de Châlon (1519-1544) displayed in the National Museum of French Monuments. The original, pictured below, can be seen at the Church of Saint-Etienne, Bar-Le-Duc, France.

A warrior prince in the service of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, René de Châlon died in the siege of St. Dizier in 1544. Beyond a few genealogical details, little else in this prince of Orange's life seems notable -- except his incredible tomb. The haunting skeletal statue is generally credited to famed French sculptor Ligier Richier (1500-1567), but there's no documentation to back this up.

Could you ask for a more beautiful image of flesh slouching off the bone? Rather than an impression of rotting, we get the sense of cloth peeling away from true skin and dead leaves turned to dust in the breeze. While the elements of memento mori are unavoidable, there's a sense of the natural in this portrayal of mortality -- as well as a suggestion of rebirth.

At the tomb.
De Agostini Picture Library

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.