Vanitas sculpture of a woman

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17th century
17.3 cm

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This ivory carved statuette shows both life and death and serves as a memento mori. The woman, dressed in rags, presents a skull to the observer with her left hand and her face is split in two; the left side shows a smiling woman with a flawless face, the right side represents a skull. The woman is leaning on her wooden leg, the other foot bared. She is wearing a large brimmed cap with loose hair underneath, and her torn clothing falls in large, supple folds around her body. In her right hand, she holds a heart-shaped object. The figure stands on a tapered ebonised wooden plinth, with three small spherical feet.

The statuette is a vanitas object and the striking cleavage of the woman represents the motto memento mori (remember that you die). This motif reminds people of their own mortality and calls for contemplation of the emptiness, temporariness and fleeting nature of existence; the woman stands on the edge of life and death. 


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