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Liane Lang, Ars Moriendi

Ars Moriendi, 2006

Liane Lang (b. 1973)

RA Collection: Art

This photograph was the first in Liane Lang’s ‘Casts’ series she made whilst in her final year at the Royal Academy Schools. She animated plaster casts in the Collection of the Royal Academy with seemingly living figures, which are in fact latex casts. In Ars Moriendi, she inserted a latex cast representing the Virgin Mary into a cast of Michelangelo’s Pietà, which was missing the female figure. We don’t know why the figure is missing from the cast but Lang said “I thought it was funny, that thought process of taking something that you clearly think is a masterpiece and then you just chop it in half and leave one of the characters out of it”. Lang’s Mary is active as she is making her own Christ figure in her hands. In the original sculpture, Mary’s arms are underneath Christ supporting him. Lang has placed the arms above Christ, interacting with a small version of the figure. She explains “Christ becomes a kind of worktable and I was interested in what happens to the composition when you do that”.

A plaster cast of the classical sculpture known as Venus de Milo, also from the Royal Academy Collection, stands on the right (03/1486). Venus de Milo represents an idealised female figure from ancient Greece as a counterpoint to the Virgin as the idealised female figure from Christianity. Lang was interested in the fact that originally classical sculptures would have been highly coloured, unlike the monochrome versions we know today. She therefore saw parallels with her own doll-like sculptures she was making at the time.

The title Ars Moriendi means ‘the art of dying’ in Latin. Lang learnt Latin at school, which she equated with the Royal Academy Schools using classical casts for teaching well into the 20th century. She thought both practices were outdated. By using the casts in her work, Lang attempts to reconsider them from a contemporary point of view. Lang described the act of making these sculptures as an “intervention with an existing object [which] is an act of vandalism. It’s similar to graffiti”.

Quotes from unpublished interview with Liane Lang 2017

Object details

Ars Moriendi
Photographed by
Liane Lang (b. 1973)
Object type
Place of Publication
United Kingdom
Copyright owner

1186 mm x 1480 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Liane Lang in 2006

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