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Human Skulls Gottfried Libalt

Artist

Gottfried Libalt Hamburg (?), ca. 1610/1611 – Vienna, 1673

Culture German
Date 1660s
Object type painting
Medium, technique oil on canvas
Dimensions

52 x 68.5 cm
with frame: 61.8 × 78.5 × 5.5 cm

Inventory number 53.428
Collection Old Master Paintings
On view Museum of Fine Arts, First Floor, European Art 1600–1700 and British Painting 1600–1800, Cabinet 3

This pyramidal stack of human skulls is an extreme example of a vanitas still life. The painting warns the viewer of transience, the inevitability of death, with its message of “memento mori” (remember that you must die). This work clearly shows Libalt’s characteristically melancholic, meditative atmosphere, his monochrome palette, and his impasto brushwork. The painter’s extraordinary technical skill is evident in the way he captured the nine skulls, all seen from a different perspective, and in his choice of raw, naturalistic depiction to accentuate the shocking effect of the spectacle.

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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