In 2007 and 2008 artist Damien Hirst became notorious for casting two human skulls in platinum and setting them with diamonds to make a statement on the inevitability of death and the vulgarity of materialism.
In 2007 Hirst created “For the Love of God,” a $100 million diamond-encrusted cast of an adult skull. This became the world’s most expensive contemporary artwork and the largest diamond piece since the commissioning of the Crown Jewels.
If the first skull was shocking because of its Liberace-levels of extravagance, the second piece was unsettling because Hirst used an infant’s skull. In 2008, Hirst created “For Heaven’s Sake,” an infant’s skull cast in platinum and studded with pink and white diamonds. The work angered parenting groups, and upset those that suffered the loss of a child. Though Hirst and the gallery acknowledged the “delicate nature” of the subject, they believed that because the skull belonged to an old pathology collection it would be less contentious.
Below are the details of each piece along with details of the skull that was used for the cast.
Damien Hirst: For the Love of God, 2007, platinum and diamonds
- From the artist’s website: The 32 platinum plates were set with 8,601 VVS to flawless pavé-set diamonds, weighing 1,106.18 carats.
- The bones of the eye orbits and the nasal aperture were filled with diamonds.
- A 52-carat pear-shaped stone was set into the forehead and surrounded by 14 diamonds.
- The piece cost $23.6 million (£12 million) to make, and was put on sale for close to $100 million (£50 million). According to Art Knowledge News, a sale was completed at the $100 million asking price and purchased by an anonymous buyer.
- Hirst stated that the inspiration for the work came from an Aztec turquoise skull at the British Museum.
- The skull is a platinum replica of a human skull bought by Hirst from a London taxidermist. The skull was subjected to bioarchaeological analysis and radiocarbon dating, which revealed that the skull was from the 18th century, and likely belonged to a 35-year-old man of European/Mediterranean ancestry
- The teeth inserted into the jaw are real and belong to the original skull.
- Hirst’s London gallery, White Cube, noted that the skulls diamonds “are all ethically sourced, each with written guarantees in compliance with United Nations resolutions.” Bentley & Skinner, the jewelers who made the skull, backed up the claim that the diamonds are “conflict-free.”
Damien Hirst: For Heaven’s Sake, 2008, Platinum, pink and white diamonds.
- From the artist’s website: A life-size platinum cast of an infant human skull pave-set with brilliant-cut pink and fine white diamonds. The cast is set with 8,128 perfect diamonds: 7,105 of which are natural fancy pink, while the fontanel contains 1,023 white diamonds.
- It is that of an infant estimated to be between 40 and 42 weeks of age.
- Hirst purchased the skull, from which the cast was taken, as part of collection of 19th century human skulls and skeletons that originated from a pathology collection.
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