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Study for L' Umana Fragilità
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash on paper
Bought from the Cunliffe Fund, 2002
Rosa was one of the most original artists and extravagant personalities in seventeenth-century Italy, working as a painter, draughtsman, etcher, poet and actor. After an early period split mainly between his native Naples and Rome, he worked in Florence (1640-49) and Rome (1649-73).
This is a study for the painting now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, which was made in Rome around 1656. The painting was probably commissioned by Flavio Chigi (1631-1693), the nephew of Pope Alexander VII, who was ordained a priest in 1656 and made Cardinal in 1657. An earlier drawing for the painting (now in Leipzig) shows the woman seated on the left with the skeleton in the middle and the child in a cradle on the right. In the Fitzwilliam's drawing the composition takes on the principal characteristics of the completed painting, but clearly shows work in progress, as there are internal corrections and alterations and the composition still differs in substantial ways from the painting. The subject refers to human frailty and the transitory nature of life.
The Fitzwilliam also has an important collection of Salvator Rosa's letters and etchings.