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Art Imitating Death? "Screaming Mummies!"

How fascinating and horrifying a screaming mummy can be is reflected in the popularity of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (1893), a figure on a bridge, holding his head, and screaming. Munch created several versions of "The Scream," two which were stolen from museums recently, the one from Oslo's Munch Museum, nicked back in 2004, was later recovered.


BBC News article on the recovery of Edvard Munch's "The Scream"

Is there a link between "The Scream" and screaming mummies? Art imitating death? Some believe a Peruvian mummy inspired Munch.

Rossella Lorenzi discussed this possibility in her article "Italian Mummy Source of 'The Scream'?" (posted originally on Discovery News, September 7, 2004, but no longer available on that website). Lorenzi interviewed New York University art professor Robert Rosenblum, who, in Symbols and Images of Edvard Munch (1978), said that Munch and Paul Gauguin had seen an Inca mummy, now in the Musée de l'Homme, at the 1889 Trocadero exposition in Paris. In 2004, however, Piero Mannucci, a Florence University anthropologist, claimed a Peruvian mummy in Florence's Museum of Natural History was the real inspiration for "The Scream." He told Lorenzi that, "The mummy in Paris has the fists closed on the cheeks, while our mummy has the hands open and placed on the each side of the face, just like the figure in 'The Scream.'" But there's no proof, however, that Munch was ever at Florence between 1883, when the mummy arrived, and the creation of "The Scream" a decade later.

On its own, the resemblance between "The Scream" and the Florence mummy isn't strong evidence. Like mummies elsewhere, some Peruvian ones scream, such as this Chachapoya mummy. And some, like one found in 2007 have their hands placed like the Florence mummy's and the figure in "The Scream."


The Evening Standard's version of a widely carried story about a Chachapoya mummy discovered in 2007.

But the hand placement is not surprising. Sit on the floor, with your feet in front and your knees drawn up to your chest, and think about how you could be packaged. Arms extended to front, above, or to sides would make for an awkward mummy bundle. Arms behind the back works, but it's a bit odd. You could link them or otherwise arrange them around the legs, as if holding the knees in toward the body. Or, you could fold the arms into the body, which brings the hands (closed fist or open) up to the chest or face. It's simply a natural pose, rather than an anguished holding of the head and face.

In fact, Munch himself doesn't mention a mummy as being the inspiration for "The Scream." His own version, quoted in a review of a recent biography of him that appeared on Slate, is simply, "I was walking along a path with two friends--the sun was setting--suddenly the sky turned blood red--I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence--there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city--my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety--and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."