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Michele Turriani

Vestiges of Vanishing Species

An Artist's response to the Powell-Cotton Museum's collection 

23 June - 10 September 2023
Private Viewing 14 July 6pm - 8.30pm

Northern White Rhino, 1189 x 891mm

Three Highgate presents Michele Turriani’s extraordinary series of works that offer a new take on Memento Mori, the genre of Dutch 17th century still life painting that typically featured flowers with skulls, and other symbols alluding to the transience of human life - hence the Latin phrase meaning 'remember you must die'.


But, in a startling shift of the key element of the genre, Turriani substitutes human skulls with those of endangered animals. This confronts us, simultaneously, with both the philosophical question of our own position within the natural world, and the undeniable responsibility we have for its destruction. 

The casual indifference of ‘after us, the deluge’ has come to haunt the humankind, which itself is at risk of becoming an endangered species. In these works, Turriani captures the threat of extinction with the eerie vision of true poetic art.  


All the skulls featured in Turriani’s works belong to animals on the Red List of Threatened Species. They come from the Powell-Cotton Museum in Kent where Turriani spent considerable time studying and photographing the diverse collection of animal specimens, in a temporary studio set up on museum’s premises. 


The museum was founded by Major Percy Powell-Cotton (1866-1940), an explorer, zoologist and big game hunter, to host the specimens he collected in his travels across Africa and Asia. Some of the skulls show evidence of the violence involved in the animals’ demise. 


This seems especially poignant and thought provoking with image of a mass of Chimpanzee skulls. In this direct reference to a vanitas still life by the 17th century Dutch artist, Aelbert Jansz van der Schoor, Turriani alludes to both the fleetingness of existence and the magnitude of destruction of our closest relative. 

The 17th century Memento Mori artists strove to achieve a sense of realism, which required a high level of technical virtuosity so that their paintings almost resemble high-resolution photographs. By the same token Turriani’s photographs, with their carefully considered compositions are like hyper-realistic paintings, using the play of light to focus on incredibly meticulous details.

Chimpanzees, 1189 x 891mm

He manages to capture the natural opulence, almost otherworldly beauty of the flowers that are painstakingly arranged in his compositions with keen attention to their colour combinations and the same soft, diffused lighting inspired by the historic paintings. 

Turriani constantly researches and grows some of his own flowers and travels to early morning markets to get the freshest examples. While some flowers are photographed in full bloom, others show signs of decay to illustrate the fragility and fleetingness of life.

Turriani works from his remarkable studio on a lightship, a floating lighthouse  that dates from the 1930s, moored in London’s Docklands, which he uses as an evocative location for photography and filming. 


Another body of work, ‘Vestiges and Bloom’, depicts flower arrangements juxtaposed with found materials such weathered rope, rusted metal objects and wood fragments sourced from derelict Dockland sites that remind us of the area’s rich maritime, commercial and industrial past. Their large scale belies a delicate and intricate level of fine detail. 

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London Brick, 1473 x 1964mm

About Michele Turriani 


Michele Turriani is a London based photographer and director. After graduating in Italy in graphic design and art direction he has been working internationally in the commercial field since moving to in London 1992. This has included shooting imagery for record sleeves for groundbreaking record labels and producing stills and moving images commissions for major brands while also establishing a reputation for his celebrity portraiture. 


In fine art his seminal works are the striking series of large-scale photographs of still lives that include ‘Vestiges and Bloom’, ‘Memento Exstigui ‘and ‘The Seasons in Season’.

Notes to Editors

The exhibition has been curated by James Putnam, an independent curator and writer and former founder curator of the British Museum’s Contemporary Arts and Cultures Programme, in collaboration with the founder and managing director of Three Highgate, Irina Johnstone. 

'Endangered' runs from 23 June till 10 September 2023. The exhibition is open 2 - 6 pm Wednesday – Saturday. On all other days by appointment only. For general enquiries and press enquiries or to book a viewing appointment, please contact Three Highgate team on +44 203 7957200 or

About Three Highgate 


Three Highgate is an art gallery and creative hub based in Highgate Village, an iconic part of London, perched at the top of Highgate Hill and teeming with history and culture. The gallery places special emphasis on development and promotion of both emerging and established artists with a unique and poetic vision. 


In addition to its contemporary art programme, Three Highgate also runs diverse cultural Symposia - artist-led gatherings and live events dedicated to theatre, literature, music, dance, film and poetry.

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