Giovanni Comin’s Putto with a Skull and a Book

Giovanni Comin, “Putto with a skull and a book (allegory of vanitas)”. Late XVII century (before 1695), Carrara marble, cm 80. Courtesy of Botticelli Antichità, Florence.

This inedited kneeling putto has its face directed towards the onlooker. Indeed, he shows us his weeping, which must be read as the most primordial answers to the discovery of the inevitability of the common human destiny, that is its material transience [1]. A painful feeling that has in the presence of the skull – on which our child rests his right hand and which he holds to himself by means of the mantle that partly dresses him – his primary cause. The skull, which is without the mandible and the incisors and canines of the upper dental arch, is placed over a closed volume. The dense shadows arising from its concave eye sockets and deeply hollowed nostrils are aligned almost vertically to the putto’s face, but opposing it for the play of solids and voids. The putto is in fact characterized by a hyper-expressive facial expression with a strong prominence chiaroscuro. In short, we are faced with the lively reaction of one on the silent and perennial impassivity of the other.

The work is carved in a single block of Carrara marble and is presented on the left side, entirely covered by the rough marks of the pointed chisel and the mallet, both tools used by the artist for the first roughing. The back also offers some similar tracks; in the center the wall of the marble is substantially smooth, with, however, the presence of an evident difference in height in the middle.

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