Vanitas (decaying head)
17th century, Oil on panel
This work, by an anonymous 17th-century Neapolitan artist, shows a head in an advanced state of decomposition. Crawling with worms and other insects, it is reminiscent of some artists working in wax active in Naples during the 17th century. This kind of work combines moralistic intent with the rigour of scientific study. These macabre subjects were widespread in 17th-century Italy and were known to have been produced in Florence between 1691 and 1695 by Gaetano Zumbo, the best-known wax modeller of the time, although their first appearance in the Florentine artistic milieu dates back to the portraits painted by Jacopo Ligozzi at the beginning of the century which featured vanitas subjects on their reverse side.