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Sotheby's, Londres, le 12 déc. 1996, lot 141.
Galerie J. Kugel, Paris.
Ce lot a été acquis auprès de la Galerie J. Kugel, Paris.
This lot was purchased from Galerie J. Kugel, Paris.
Tertullian, Apologeticus, Cambridge, 1686.
C. Theodor Müller 'Ein Problem Deutscher Kleinplastik des 16. Jahrhunderts', Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft, 10, 1943, pp. 255-264.
Frankfurt am Main, Liebieghaus, Dürers Verwandlung in der Skulptur zwischen Renaissance und Barock, 1 nov. 1981 - 17 jan. 1982, H. Beck ed., pp. 301-4, no. 191A.
Post Lot Text
A CARVED FRUITWOOD FIGURE OF A STANDING SKELETON
SOUTH GERMAN, CIRCA 1670
The decaying figure holding a bow in his left hand with a quiver on a strap across his shoulder, on an integrally carved base and octagonal ivory plinth with carved armorial cartouche and eight turned ivory feet; minor losses and restorations, the ivory base probably associated, the quiver replaced
The captivating yet equally terrifying boxwood memento mori offered here follows a long-standing tradition in European art of representing the human body decomposing. As Tertullian illustrated with the Apologeticus (op. cit.) the concept of memento mori, or beware death, had its roots in antiquity. In it, he describes how victorious Roman generals parading through the streets of Rome would have a slave walking behind them repeating the phrase Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! (Look behind you! Remember that you are a man!). The theme continued throughout the middle ages and during the renaissance culminated with one of the most striking images from the period, Ligier Richier's monumental marble standing skeleton from circa 1544. The tradition of allegorising death, and man's relationship with it, then carried into the 17th century, where particularly in northern Europe countless representations of the theme could be seen in the form of skulls, dying flowers and hourglasses. This was, arguably, driven by the re-evaluation of Christian ideology - and subsequently man's relationship with death and God - due to the Reformation that had swept through northern Europe in the 16th century. To any Christian who saw or, indeed, owned a memento mori, they would have served to emphasise the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures and were thus an invitation to focus one's thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife. A religious text often associated with this concept is: in omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua, et in aeternum non peccabis (in all your works be mindful of your last end and you will never sin, Ecclesiasticus 7:40).
The boxwood skeleton offered here is one such memento mori that follows in the tradition of making its onlooker conscious of their mortality, and is also a reflection of a further allegory: the universality of death. This can be best seen in Michael Wolgemut's engraving of La Danse Macabre from 1493 which displays five skeletal figures in exaggerated poses dancing above a grave and demonstrating that, irrespective of one's background, death comes to all. Although the image was a common one, it may have been an engraving such as this that influenced the composition of the present lot. Stylistically and compositionally the skeleton offered here is virtually identical to another boxwood skeletal memento mori in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (Beck, loc. cit.) that is monogrammed AD and dated 1673. Although the artist that monogrammed the Munich figure is yet to be identified, the engraved date provides a context for when the present lot may have been executed.