Vanitas (with Books and Owl)
Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747), circle of the Bolognese School
18th century, Oil on panel
This painting is the work of the great Bolognese artist Giuseppe Maria Crespi, one of the key figures of European artistic culture from the 1680s to the fourth decade of the Age of Enlightenment. Crespi, who painted the celebrated Libreria (in the Museum of Music in Bologna), probably also painted in the still life genre in other, as yet undocumented, works. The attribution of this evocative, dense Vanitas to Crespi is due to the quality of the pictorial rendering, the thick brushstrokes that give a sense of relief to the forms, the ochres and browns with pops of green so typical of the Bolognese artist's palette, and the bold alternation of shadow and light. The rendering of the subject itself points to the fervid imagination of the painter, who has portrayed a skull and owl on the open book, both of them Memento mori: but the laurel wreath on the skull alludes to the eternity of fame, and the outstretched wings of the owl, sacred to Minerva, goddess of wisdom, suggest the desire for immortality.