NEAPOLITAN SCHOOL, 17TH CENTURY
A PAIR OF MEMENTO MORI WITH SKULLS AND CROSSBONES
a pair, each oil on canvas
each: 16⅛ by 19 in.; 41.1 by 48.4 cm.
Former: The canvas is lined. A decorative image reads well, especially in the shadows of the bones. Minor frame abrasions are along edges. A spot of perhaps old repair is in the bottom left corner. This fluoresces under UV light along with further scattered spots of retouching in the background and finely applied retouches to the skull. Painting can hang as is. Offered in a painted wooden frame.
Latter: The canvas is lined. A decorative image reads well, especially in the shadows of the bones. Two thin cracks to the paint surface that are barely visible are in the central bottom quadrant. Minor frame abrasions are along edges. Inspection under UV shows scattered spots of retouching in the background and skull, while a spot of possible old repair is at top center. Painting can hang as is. Offered in a painted wooden frame.
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Memento mori means "remember you must die". This theme was popular during the 17th century when it was a common belief that life on earth was merely a preparation for the afterlife. This pair of skulls convey an immediate sense of realism through the artist's mastery of light, which accentuates each distinctive feature of the bones that are strategically placed against a dark background. Similar memento mori, which could have served as inspiration for this pair, appear as details in both Caravaggio's Saint Jerome from 1608 in Saint John's Co-Cathedral and Museum, Valletta1 and Ribera's Saint Paul the Hermit from 1635-40 in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.2
1. Oil on canvas, 117 by 157 cm. See https://www.stjohnscocathedral.com/caravaggio-paintings/
2. Oil on canvas, 118 x 98 cm. See https://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion/obra-de-arte/san-pablo-ermitao/034011e2-0773-4f0c-ab86-7d5cf2723a25