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Relief - Time and Death

Time and Death

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (probably Naples, made)

  • Date:

    before 1727 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    de Julianis, Caterina (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Coloured and moulded wax

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased by the V&A under the bequest of Dr W.L. Hildburgh

  • Museum number:

    A.3-1966

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case WN

The scene is set in a crumbling graveyard, with the winged figure of Father Time seated on the left pointing to a clock, while a half-draped emaciated figure of a smiling beggar, seated on the other side of the clock, solicits alms; a papal tiara lies at his feet. One small discoloured and decaying corpse lies in front of Time, while another corpse with entrails revealed lies beside him, surrounded by rats, snakes and skulls. A dead youth is stretched out on the right, while on the extreme right the crowned skeletal figure of Death holding a spear looks on. Ivy trails over the surrounding stonework; the sloping ground gives a sense of theatricality to the whole. The painted background depicts decaying funerary monuments.

This highly realistic and dramatic wax tableau was a memento mori, intended to inspire thoughts on mortality. Until recently it was attributed to the wax sculptor Gaetano Giulio Zumbo or Zummo (1656-1701), but it has now been convincingly reassigned to Caterina de Julianis. This artist was a Neapolitan nun who specialized in wax modelling. The piece was inspired by Zumbo's works, and the dead youth was in fact based on a figure of a dead bare-breasted woman in one of his wax compositions; because the present work was intended for a church this figure was transformed into a male subject. Coloured wax was the ideal medium for such morbidly realistic scenes, and the artist has been able to convey with astonishing illusionism the textures of stone, flesh and drapery. Wax figures could be formed from moulds, as well as modelled, and so copies and variations of compositions were easily made. A closely similar composition known to be by Caterina de Julianis is in the Chiesa dell'Immacolata in Catanzaro, previously in Bishop Emmanuel Spinelli's palace, and dating from before 1727.

Physical description

The scene is set in a crumbling graveyard, with the winged figure of Father Time seated on the left pointing to a clock, while a half-draped emaciated figure of a smiling beggar, seated on the other side of the clock, solicits alms; a papal tiara lies at his feet. One small discoloured and decaying corpse lies in front of Time, while another corpse with entrails revealed lies beside him, surrounded by rats, snakes and skulls. A dead youth is stretched out on the right, while on the extreme right the crowned skeletal figure of Death holding a spear looks on. Ivy trails over the surrounding stonework; the sloping ground gives a sense of theatricality to the whole. The painted background depicts decaying funerary monuments.

Place of Origin

Italy (probably Naples, made)

Date

before 1727 (made)

Artist/maker

de Julianis, Caterina (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Coloured and moulded wax

Dimensions

Height: 83 cm frame, Width: 108 cm frame, Depth: 20 cm wax

Object history note

Probably the church of S. Severo al Pendino, Naples; disappeared 1944; from about 1944 in the collection of Armando Brasini (1879-1965); sold by his heirs to the V&A for £350 under the bequest of Dr W.L. Hildburgh, 1966.

Descriptive line

Relief, wax, Time and Death, Naples, 1700-1740, attributed to Caterina de Julianis, Italy (probably Naples), before 1727

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Lightbown, Ronald William, 'Time and Death: a new relief by Zumbo' in Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin vol.3, no.1 (January 1967) pp. 39-44
Murrell, V.J., 'Some aspects of the conservation of wax models' in Studies in Conservation no.16 (1971), pp.102-6
Pyke, E.J., A Biographical Dictionary of Wax Modellers (Oxford, 1973) pp. 73, 163
Cagnetta, F., 'La vie et l'oeuvre de Gaetano Giulio Zummo' in La Ceroplastica nella Scienza e nell'Arte. Atti del I Congreso Internazionale, Florence, June 1975 (Florence, 1977) vol. 2, p. 498
Panzanelli, R (ed.) The Color of Life. Polychromy in Sculpture from Antiquity to the Present The J.Paul Ghetty Museum, Los Angeles, 2008, cat. no. 28, pp. 254-6
Trusted, M (ed.), The Making of Sculpture. The materials and techniques of European Sculpture, London, 2007, p. 33, pl. 48
Eade, Jane, ‘The Theatre of Death’, in: Oxford Art Journal, Oxford University Press, 36.1. 2013, pp. 109-125
Snodin, Michael and Llewellyn, Nigel (eds.), Baroque 1620-1800. Style in the Age of Magnificence, exh. cat., V&A Publishing, London, 2009

Labels and date

Time and Death
Before 1727

This macabre depiction of death and decay was probably made by Caterina de Julianis, a Neapolitan nun who specialised in wax modelling. Coloured wax was the ideal medium for such morbid subject matter, as it convincingly imitated the texture of flesh, rendering it shockingly realistic. Such dramatic tableaux were widely produced in southern Italy during the late 17th and 18th centuries.

Italy (probably Naples)

Probably by Caterina de Julianis

Coloured and moulded wax [09.12.2015]
TIME AND DEATH
Neapolitan, about 1700-1740
Wax
Probably by Caterina de Julianis (active about 1695-1742)
Purchased under the bequest of Dr. W L Hildburgh F.S.A.

This realistic depiction of death and decay was probably executed by Caterina de Julianis, a Neapolitan num who specialised in wax subjects. It was originally made for the church of S. Severo al Pendino in Naples. Waxes such as there, which could shockingly remind the spectator of morality, were produced in some numbers in Southern Italy in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This piece was formerly attributed to a celebrated wax modeller from Sicily, Gaetano Zumbo (1656-1701).

[1993 - 2011]

Materials

Wax

Techniques

Modelled

Subjects depicted

Beggars; Corpse; Memento Mori

Categories

Sculpture; Reliefs; Death

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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