Marta Polato • “Memento mori” • 2021 • First look


Grave Willow returns to the work of artist-in-residence Marta Polato. Her latest piece is a stark death’s-head created with oil on paper. It evolved from a series submitted for inclusion in a scholarly anthology of esoterica. The painting is entitled, Memento mori:

In the painting, a skull is shown crowned with a wreath of berried ivy, or Edera. Polato is multifaceted in her Dionysian expressions of the plant. Her devotion to the ivy spirit is no secret. Like the willow that grows over the grave, ivy dances upon tombs and abandoned structures.

Based near Venice, Polato is no stranger to the profound Memento mori around her. Venice is home to Ponte dei Sospirithe Bridge of Sighs. Passing over the narrow waters of Rio di Palazzo, this limestone bridge is quite literally a passage between life and death. Historically, Ponte dei Sospiri served as the link between the interrogation chambers of the Doge’s Palace and the cells of Prigioni Nuovethe New Prison. As prisoners crossed from one edifice to the other —often being led to their death in the square — they beheld the sight of the lovely Venetian world one last time. Deeply, they sighed for the fate which awaited them beyond this final vision.

Ponte dei Sospiri. Venice. Photo by D. Scopelliti. 2016.

Polato reminisces on her own experience crossing bridges. Ponte degli Scalzi comes to mind. The name itself means Bridge of the Barefoot, or Bridge of Barefoot Monks. She youthfully recalls walking barefoot over the bridge intoxicated sometimes drunk on just Veneto alone. She says such barefoot crossings are traditional, though she does not know exactly why. It should come as no surprise that the ivy-adoring Polato delights in these experiences. On many occasions she has depicted ivy in its aspect as a plant of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, fertility, and ecstatic celebration.

As for bridge-travels and Memento mori… Creeping does our experience cross over such deathly ponti: Sometimes with sighs forlorn, and breaths of the inevitable. In other instances it crosses barefoot and intoxicated.

Polato is an Italian artist born in Padua and based in Venice. Her works capture the dance — both earthly and otherworldly — of European mythic traditions, herbal folklore, and esoteric currents. Like the flora they depict, Polato’s works emit a subtle potency. Polato is the first visual artist to join the Grave Willow project.

Marta Polato can be found on instagram via @__hedera__.
She can also be reached at

Images via Marta Polato © Reproduction strictly prohibited.

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