Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery

Soul at Death

Relief
1620-1630 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This small framed wax is one of a set of four showing souls in different states (see also A.20 to 22-1982). These highly realistic and dramatic wax tableaux served as ‘memento mori’, intended to inspire thoughts on mortality. Wax modelling had already acquired a certain status by the sixteenth century, as it is ideal for producing the type of intricate workmanship on a small scale which can be seen in this object, and enhanced by the use of colour and texture to mimic flesh. The inscription on the back of the frame, ' Mors malis vita bonis' is Latin for 'Death to the bad, life to the good' and is from the text of the Lauda Sion, which is a sequence sung during the Corpus Christi mass, written by the thirteenth-century theologian, Thomas Aquinas.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Relief, coloured wax on painted glass in deep stained and gilt box frame.
Brief Description
Relief, coloured wax, Soul at Death, possibly by Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino, Italian, probably 1620s
Physical Description
A naked male corpse lying in a coffin, the head resting on pillows and a sheet with a black coverlet pulled up to the chest. The background is black glass, decorated with white wax swags to resemble the lining of a coffin. A gilt crucifix is placed at the corpse's shoulder. A modelled clock standing at midnight and two lit candles painted onto the background decorate the coffin above the pillows. The scene is mounted in a deep stained and gilded box frame and is inscribed on the back.
Dimensions
  • Height: 26cm
  • Width: 24cm
  • Depth: 6cm
Measured by SCP (LS) and FTF (DH) on 13 December 2012 for 1600-1800 Project.
Marks and Inscriptions
'Mors Malis Vita Bonis' (on back of frame)
Gallery Label
Waxes showing the fate of the soul These dramatic and highly realistic wax sculptures depict the possible fate of the immortal soul. According to Catholic doctrine, the soul is judged at death and sent to Heaven for eternal reward, Hell for eternal punishment, or Purgatory for a period of purifying repentance. These sculptures were probably for private devotion, a potent reminder of the terrifying fate of damnation and that time in Purgatory could be lessened through the prayers of the living. A Soul at Death About 1620–30 Italy (Naples) Possibly by Giovanni Bernardo Azzolino Coloured wax on painted glass Inscribed on the back of the frame in Latin ‘Death to the bad, life to the good’ Given by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine Museum no. A.19-1982 A Damned Soul About 1700 Italy (Naples) In the style of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo Coloured wax on glass and painted copper, with mirror glass, quartz and mica Bequeathed by Lady de Gex Museum no. A.66-1938 A Blessed Soul About 1700 Italy (Naples) In the style of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo Coloured wax on glass and painted copper, with mirror glass, quartz and mica Bequeathed by Lady de Gex Museum no. A.65-1938 A Soul in Purgatory About 1620–30 Italy (Naples) Possibly by Giovanni Bernardo Azzolino Coloured wax on painted glass Inscribed on the back of the frame in Latin ‘Have mercy upon me' Given by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine Museum no. A.20-1982(09.12.2015)
Credit line
Waxes showing the fate of the soul



These dramatic and highly realistic wax sculptures depict the possible fate of the immortal soul. According to Catholic doctrine, the soul is judged at death and sent to Heaven for eternal reward, Hell for eternal punishment, or Purgatory for a period of purifying repentance. These sculptures were probably for private devotion, a potent reminder of the terrifying fate of damnation and that time in Purgatory could be lessened through the prayers of the living.





A Soul at Death

About 1620–30



Italy (Naples)



Possibly by Giovanni Bernardo Azzolino



Coloured wax on painted glass



Inscribed on the back of the frame in Latin ‘Death to the bad, life to the good’



Given by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine



Museum no. A.19-1982





A Damned Soul

About 1700



Italy (Naples)



In the style of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo



Coloured wax on glass and painted copper, with mirror glass, quartz and mica



Bequeathed by Lady de Gex



Museum no. A.66-1938





A Blessed Soul

About 1700



Italy (Naples)



In the style of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo



Coloured wax on glass and painted copper, with mirror glass, quartz and mica



Bequeathed by Lady de Gex



Museum no. A.65-1938





A Soul in Purgatory

About 1620–30



Italy (Naples)



Possibly by Giovanni Bernardo Azzolino



Coloured wax on painted glass



Inscribed on the back of the frame in Latin ‘Have mercy upon me'



Given by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
Object history
This wax is one of a set of four which have previously been described as having been produced by the workshop of Giulio Gaetano Zumbo, following John Pope-Hennessy's attribution of other related waxes already in the collection at the time of their acquisition (A.65 & 66-1938; Pope-Hennessy 1964, op.cit.). However, more recently historian Gabriele Finaldi (1994, op. cit.) has attributed similar waxes, formerly on the New York art market, to the painter and sculptor Giovan Bernardino Azzolino (c.1572-1645), known to have been a wax-modeller, which also represent souls in Paradise, Purgatory and Hell, which suggests that these may also be by the same artist.



Purchased from Ferrando, Rome, April 1931 by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. Given by the Wellcome Institute in 1982, together with A.20 / 21 / 22-1982.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This small framed wax is one of a set of four showing souls in different states (see also A.20 to 22-1982). These highly realistic and dramatic wax tableaux served as ‘memento mori’, intended to inspire thoughts on mortality. Wax modelling had already acquired a certain status by the sixteenth century, as it is ideal for producing the type of intricate workmanship on a small scale which can be seen in this object, and enhanced by the use of colour and texture to mimic flesh. The inscription on the back of the frame, ' Mors malis vita bonis' is Latin for 'Death to the bad, life to the good' and is from the text of the Lauda Sion, which is a sequence sung during the Corpus Christi mass, written by the thirteenth-century theologian, Thomas Aquinas.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • cf. for related version: Finaldi, Gabriele, 'Giulio de Grazia: Medallist to the Spanish Viceroys of Naples', in: The Medal, no. 24, Spring 1994, pp. 3-7, see fig.2.
  • cf. Pope-Hennessy, John, assisted by Lightbown, Ronald. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: HMSO, 1964, vol.2, pp. 633-4, cat. nos 674, 675; vol.3, figs 665, 666.
Collection
Accession Number
A.19-1982

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record createdJune 24, 2009
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