Circle of Grinling Gibbons
17th century, Lime wood
This unique Vanitas is comprised of several overlapping elements: the skull rests on an open book, whose bulging pages enliven and give a sense of lightness to the group, and the book covers a funerary urn in perfect classical style, which in turn rests on a whip made of woven and knotted wicker, embellished here and there by small stars. There is a missing element in the section just above the top of the urn, probably the extension of an object that is not well defined (perhaps a stick of incense), visible below the base of the reliquary. Overall, it is devoid of the macabre austerity that characterises so many compositions of this genre. The heightened chiaroscuro and technical virtuosity would lead one to think that the artist may have been a follower of the famous English sculptor Grinling Gibbons, who produced astonishing carvings for various courts. Gibbons, who has been called the world's greatest carver, does not seem to have been involved in the making of this sculpture: the various elements are decidedly more robust, and the details, such as the laurel festoon hanging from the vase or the wicker bundles, appear heavier and more compact and do not show the delicacy of the English sculptor.