Jacopo Ligozzi (1547-1626)
17th century, Oil on canvas
This painting depicts a head in an advanced state of decomposition resting on a book with three bookmarks, the last one bearing the inscription 'senecta'. Unlike the majority of painters who have dealt with the theme of vanitas, Jacopo Ligozzi does not depict the fleshless, inalterable skull but rather the still rotting head, further revealing the process of transformation human life is subject to. On the right, we see a winged hourglass - with wings reduced to a skeleton - and above it a burning lamp, which further allude to the inexorable passage of time and our common fate of wasting away and dying. The book, on the other hand, seems to allude to the futility of study and the pursuit of knowledge when faced with the transience of life and the annihilation of death. The painter depicts the macabre scene with the same analytical attention that we find in his naturalistic illustrations (also appreciated by Ulisse Aldrovandi), of which he produced many during his service at the Medici court.