Carved images of death were cherished items in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century collectors' cabinets. Most were of wood, though ivory versions are known. They relate to the artistic preoccupation with death in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The naturalistic poses, gestures, and movement of drapery date this group to the mid-seventeenth century; indeed, the composition recalls an etching of 1663 by Stefano della Bella (MMA Print Department 68.736.1). The group is carved in one piece except for the plumes on the turban. The skeleton has an elaborately hollowed-out torso and neck, and the tendons of his forearms and lower legs are similarly undercut.
J. Pierpont Morgan , London and New York (until 1917; to MMA)
Artist: Etched by Stefano della Bella (Italian, Florence 1610–1664 Florence)Date: ca. 1648Medium: Etching; proof state retouched with graphite and pen and brown inkAccession: 68.736.1On view in:Gallery 690