Anime Pezzentelle (Begging Souls) (Demon, Death, Soul in Purgatory, Eternal Father)
18th century, Polychrome wood
These four very special polychrome wooden figures are said to represent the so-called Anime Pezzentelle (Begging Souls, or Aneme d'o Priatoio, of Purgatory), that is, the souls of the deceased poor, whose identity is unknown, and who wander in Purgatory waiting to be purged by the flames, i.e. for their sins to be forgiven. These souls, acting as intermediaries for the living, bound themselves to the earth in a relationship of reciprocal exchange: in exchange for the prayers of the living for the forgotten dead, which would help them pass through Purgatory, these dead souls would listen to the requests of the living for good fortune and intercede to bring them the grace they requested. In Naples, this popular cult originated in the mid-17th century and was connected with the plague of 1656 that claimed over three hundred thousand lives. These half-length Anime Pezzentelle figures represent: a female Soul (with long hair falling over her shoulders), raising up her face and arms in a sign of entreaty, surrounded by five other souls whose heads only emerge from the flames; a Skeleton, which seems to emerge from the rocky ground in which it is buried; a Devil resting on the heads of two other souls enveloped in flames, characterised by pointed ears, horns, and large jaws; and, finally, the Holy Father, with his right hand raised in a sign of blessing and in his left hand a globe, with an angelic figure at its base.