Meant as a reminder of Man's mortality, the Memento Mori has found endless incarnations in art history and even literature, epitomized by Shakespeare's in Hamlet's famous and often quoted soliliquy, "To be or not to be." While its philosophical and religious underpinnings date back to Roman antiquity, the theme first gained popularity among 17th century European artists and continues to inspire contemporary artists today, most recently Damien Hirst and Subodh Gupta. Pablo Picasso's 1945 painting, Poireaux, crfne et pichet [Still life - Skull with leeks] is a noted modernist interpretation of the Memento Mori that also served as a personal meditation on war. (Christie's London, 3 February 2003, lot 82).
Pictorial representations of a skull amidst symbols of books and globes denote worldly yet transitory pleasures. Further symbols may include hourglasses, ripening fruit and flowers, or melting candles. See Y. Dalmia, The Demonic Line: An Exhibition of Drawings, 1940-1964 by Francis Newton Souza, Delhi Art Gallery, 2000, p. 32, for a similarly executed drawing also dated to 1959.