How important is the skull and crossbones in art? In what ways is the skull highlighted in the modern world?

Skull World is THE reference on this topic in Germany. ☠️ Our team of enthusiasts sat down to answer these questions in detail.

The skull has held an important place in the art world. The image of the human skull has been very present since the beginning of contemporary art: in painting, in film and also in fashion.

In this article you will learn, among other things, what meanings the skull and crossbones can have in the art world . And how the skull has been featured in contemporary art since World War II.

Let’s start right away 😀.

Opt for a decorative skull for an art gallery-style decor.

Meanings of skulls in art

Representing death, skulls are a brutal reminder of our mortality. Yet they are much more than that, especially in art. In particular, they symbolize change and transformation. In some cultures they are even associated with strength and protection. Especially in art there is a multitude of representations. Let’s see five of them together 💀.

1) Celebrating death

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) is an opportunity for families to dress up and celebrate their dead. Sugarheads are decorated with bright, vibrant colors and patterns to show respect. This is how they commemorate their loved ones who lost their lives. They are placed on and around the tombstones of the deceased.

In the beginning, sugar skulls were made from molded sugar (hence the name) and decorated with icing, beads, and feathers, all in bright colors. That has changed over the years and we can see them being made from almost any material without ever showing their imaginativelosing ornaments. A Mexican head meant to celebrate Dia de los Muertos can be recognized by its cheerful shading, floral lashes and intricate detailing around the mouth and eyes.

2) Life after death

Not everyone believes that life ends with death. Many cultures hold that death is just the beginning of a new page in life, a step toward a higher level of consciousness. The Aztec and Spanish cultures of Mexico are perfect examples of this. In the Middle Ages it was believed that the skull contained all the energy and power of man. They were also used to mark the entrance to a cemetery.

The Aztecs brought human sacrifices to the gods to ensure that the sun would never leave them. From their victims, they kept only the skulls, which they then bleached, painted, and also decorated with flowers, potentially immortalizing the dead in ways that are impossible in real life. ⚰️

Aztec skull

3) Show the change

Even if you don’t really believe in tarot cards, it’s interesting to know that the 13th trump card of the traditional deck is the skull/skeleton, which appears as a symbol of transformation and change. 🃏

Of the different interpretations of the map, the following are the most common :

  • Regeneration
  • end of a cycle
  • A profound change
  • transition to a new state
  • Psychological Transformation
  • Elimination of old patterns

4) Meaning of vanity

Charles Allan Gilbert used the shape of a skull in his painting in the late 1800s to depict human flaws, especially vanity. In the painting, a woman can be seen seated at a table staring at her reflection.

Analyzing the painting, one can clearly see the outline of the skull and the woman in question involuntarily forms the eyes of this skull. The painter ‘s idea is to encourage the viewer to look deeper into a person and not to stop at the image that this person imposes on you through their appearance.

Vanitas painting Charles Allan Gilbert.

5) Emblem of “cool”

The symbolic meaning behind a skull and crossbones has evolved over the years and has recently become a “cool” emblem. Like getting a tattoo, wearing a”” skull t-shirt””, or displaying a decorative skull at home.
So for many it is simply an elegant decorative element, similar to a flower or a geometric pattern. Strictly speaking, the meaning also has no real background.

Skulls and contemporary art

We just got acquainted with the main meanings of skulls in art . Now let’s find out together how they took their place in art. Especially in contemporary art, which replaced modern art from 1945 onwards. 👇🏼

1) In painting

During World War II, many propaganda posters contained images of bones. The Allies distributed posters with pictures depicting Hitler as dying or causing deaths. The use of this part of the human body in this way inspired many artists in the years after 1945. Back then, artists incorporated skulls into their art , especially painters. 🎨

For a highly artistic interior and to enforce all the meanings we have seen above. Why not treat yourself to something special? This beautiful Totenkopf art skull picture is one of the most beautiful works of our design team. It will fit perfectly into your interior design.

2) In the cinema

In the last 20 years alone there have been over 200 films in which the skull and crossbones has been used as a film poster . Most of these are horror films that struggle with the skull, but adventure and science fiction films also use the skull as a main motif. 

Movie posters with skulls.

3) Art Deco Skull

Skulls have been used as art and decoration for centuries , but have only recently gained tremendous popularity. Already 7200 BC they were displayed in the homes of the Middle East. However, since this time predates Scripture, it is impossible to know the symbolism behind the display of these skulls. By the 1300s, Europeans were decorating chalices and churches with all kinds of bones.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that American artists began experimenting with the use of skulls in art . ☠️ Today we use the image of skulls through a variety of decorative items. Decorative skulls (or artistic skulls) are extremely popular and appealing to add to a room.

Art picture skull.

4) The skull tattoo

Tattoos are another art form in which skulls are popular. From simple skulls to crossbones to flaming designs and bones intertwined with roses, there are many different forms of tattoos in this style. As they often symbolize power, triumph or the memory of a loved one, skull tattoos have become particularly fashionable in recent years. 💉

Whether it’s anchored on a woman’s skin or a man’s, it’s started a trend of its own. What it means depends on who wears it and who looks at it. The meanings of skull tattoos are almost endless.

skull tattoos.

5) Fashion emblem (clothing and jewelry)

Originally only intended as a decorative element, the skull has achieved phenomenal status in the fashion world . Today you can find him everywhere on the catwalks, but especially on the streets. It will be difficult for you to go out in a big city without encountering someone dressed in a skull and crossbones. 👕

Nowadays you can find the skull all over clothes, especially t-shirts. But not only! Handbags, leather jackets and all other accessories have also adopted his often quirky style. This development began mainly in the 1970s, which were characterized by the success of metal bands and bikers. The goths also have a lot of fun with it and integrate it almost everywhere in their clothing style.

Men and clothes with skulls.

There are no limits to how skulls can be used in art. Jeweled skulls worth millions of dollars have been popping up in the United States in recent years. As has jewelry, which has held a more than respectable place in the fashion world. Showing off with a skull ring can be both a provocation and a form of attitude and respectability. 💍

Include the skull and crossbones in your art

So it is undeniable that skulls will continue to have symbolic status in all corners of the world in the future. They will never stop telling their own stories and expressing themselves in art, design, sculpture and history through the eyes of their creators and those who admire them. 👀

We saw together how ubiquitous the image of skulls is in art and especially in the modern world. You now know exactly how they are used and what their meanings are. Especially for you, a young art fanatic , we have selected our most beautiful “””skull decoration pieces”” .

If you want to learn more about the world of the skull in art, then come and meet artist Damien Hirst