Portrait of a Gentleman (recto), Vanitas (verso)
17th century, Oil on panel
A head in a state of advanced decomposition is painted on the reverse of this Portrait of a Gentleman. With its sorrowful grimace, it seems to emphasize the message of the scroll beneath the book, alluding to the fragility of human life. The inclusion of moralising works on the backs of portraits was widespread between the 15th and 16th century in Flanders and was also popular in Italy, mainly thanks to the work of Jacopo Ligozzi, who was active in spreading the genre in Tuscany. The creator of this double portrait, probably a Tuscan artist, transcribes Ligozzi's much more disturbing mise-en-scène in a somewhat schematic and cold manner, and an interest in Flemish portraiture is also revealed in the depiction of the living person.