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The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses Hardcover – October 24, 2011


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The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses + Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; First Edition edition (October 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500251789
  • ISBN-13: 979-0500251781
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 0.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“. . . an astounding achievement, both as a literary and photographic work.” (Fangoria)

“Koudounaris gracefully transcends mere ghastliness and ghoulishness to challenge cultural perceptions of death, both current and centuries old. The result is not only a highly original work of great visual beauty and rigorous scholarship but also a surprisingly intimate and tender meditation on what the author calls 'the dialogue with the dead.'” (Bloomsbury Review)

“The photos of the skulls alone justify the purchase.” (Talk)

About the Author

Paul Koudounaris received his doctorate from the art history department at UCLA. His previous books include The Empire of Death and Heavenly Bodies. He lives in Los Angeles.

More About the Author

PhD, Art History UCLA; I live in Los Angeles, CA, USA. I photograph and write about some very fascinating dead people throughout the world. Personal website is www.empiredelamort.com. Facebook page for the books Empire of Death and Heavenly Bodies is www.facebook.com/empireofdeath. There are a couple talks coming up--please click on my author page and scroll down to see list of events.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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It also includes map locations and very clear cross referencing in the appendices.
erin
The Empire of Death is a perfect blending of stunning photography and information, meticulously put together by author and photographer Paul Koudounaris.
immortalvisions
I decided to order this copy and I was not disappointed; images are high quality, the book is interesting and is a jewel for any library.
Noelia V

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Robin Dwyer-hickey on October 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book. It is beautifully produced and manages to span the realms of the coffee table grimoire and the insightful scholarly work. Paul Koudounaris speaks authoritatively and succinctly, revealing a world of life and hope that has been effectively extinguished in modern society. There is an unsettling message that resonates through every page; by marginalizing and concealing our beloved dead, we take some of the vivacity from our own lives. Plus, you get a built-in ribbon bookmark.

The Empire of Death will likely change the way you think about death, even if you had a relatively amicable relationship before.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By erin on November 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am so happy that I ordered this book. It is full of stunning photography and the binding is very elegant. This was a perfect addition to my collection of books about Ossuaries. Typically these kinds of books are either coffee-table books burdened by mediocre writing and poor scholarship, or textbooks with wonderful historical perspective but few images. The text by Koudounaris entirely worth reading, though the format sacrifices ease of reading for visual appeal. Some of the sites in this book are rarely photographed or written about, so it is really a wonderful resource in addition to a beautiful book for display. It also includes map locations and very clear cross referencing in the appendices. To be honest, the photographs are so beautiful that it would be worth buying for those alone.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michelle L. Deziel on November 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Empire of Death is a brilliant book that is sure to captivate all who delve into it. In this beautiful hardcover, Dr. Koudounaris takes readers on a fascinating journey across continents and through history to extraordinary places where the living and the dead coexist. Here, the religious establishment's long forgotten practice of decorating and creating works of art with human remains is discussed and illustrated in thoughtful and astonishing detail. Not only does Dr. Koudounaris elegantly describe the rich and unusual cultural history of ossuaries and charnel houses, he grants his readers unprecedented access to both well known and private sites through nearly 300 stunning photographs. The images alone are worth the price of the book!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Erica Hughes on January 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I got this for Christmas from somebody who obviously knows me very, very well! I couldn't believe how much I've enjoyed looking through it. The photography of ossuaries, crypts, and catacombs would be amazing on its own but the author, Paul Koudounaris's knowledge on it all makes it so, so a must-read. What's really great about it is that it is not a horror book. I got a calendar from my mom with all these old rundown manor houses and cemeteries that looks like something a "Twilight" fan might put on their gloomy-headed wall. This is the opposite. Part art photos of ancient skulls and bones and part history lesson. I love my gift!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bookworm70 on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Littered around Europe are so called Ossuaries where bones are
kept either in special niches or arranged in convivial macabre
baroque art. This book is a compendium of such shrines and a
homage to death itself.

Paul Koudounaris has documented well and little known Charnel
Houses, not to mention he presented it with flair and supplemented
with several pictures.

Included in this handsome hardbound book are the famous Capuchin
Church in Palermo,Scwarzenberg Chapel, Waldsassen and Church of
Saint Francis in Portugal.

This is highly recommended for those who are Connosieurs of the
Strange and those who are not brave enough to cross the threshold
of the said chapels and churches. Dr. Koudounaris has done an
excellent job and give us a free tour of the Realm of the Dead.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ioana on November 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a book that teaches you that death is not only a part of life, but of art as well. It's laden with stunning photography and luxurious fonts. The binding is exquisite as well. It's also a very comprehensive guide of charnel houses and ossuaries around the world- famous, sacred or isolated- with remarkable photographs to document this rather macabre journey. The Empire of Death is the ideal coffee table book for the strange and the aesthete alike.

The wonderful presentation and fascinating content make The Empire of Death a perfect gift for the upcoming holidays.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Corey Lidster on June 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
As has been testified elsewhere, Paul Koudanaris' exploration of the historical anachronism known as the 'Ossuary' is, firstly, a work of exceptional beauty. His photographs of these places that are entirely morbid to many Western eyes, evincing second & third hand impressions of the Black Death & two World Wars (both times the Horseman of War is followed closely by Death, Plague and famine: the scarlet fever showing no mercy to the already ravaged nations who fought in the Great War: the terrifying industrialized killing machines employed by the Nazi's to make quick pitiless work of genocide), have far more significance than mere shock. His anthropological investigation into the origins of the Ossuary suggest a deep cultural disconnect that only a small and curious portion of the Western World have managed to plug themselves into. Until the 19th & 20th centuries, the average person had a familiarity with death that was unavoidable. The skull was seen as a symbol of one's resignation to his own mortality. From the late Gothic to the Renaissance to the Baroque, the 'Vanitas' theme of the living man studying the dead to remind himself of life's transience is a constant. The Ossuary can be seen as an architectural and sculptural progression of the Vanitas theme, as well as a solution to a very real problem of city-planning. As plagues and battles raged, and cities continued to grow through the late medieval age, places to bury the dead became harder to find. Graveyards were stacking graves two - three coffins deep. As the distances one was forced to travel in order to bury the dead became untenable, the catacombs were opened and expanded, and the Ossuary was born.Read more ›
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