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Giovanni Battista Castiglione
Allegory of Transience (Temporalis Aeternitas)
Etching printed on paper
Bequeathed by Charles John Lambert (died 1991) with a life interest to his brother, Michael Lambert, relinquished 2006

The motif of arcadian shepherds pointing to an inscription on a classical tomb derives from a painting by Poussin and had already been the subject of an etching made by Castiglione ten years before this one, in which the figure points to the words Temporalis and Aeternitas ('Temporal' and 'Eternal'); in this print only a few letters of the same inscription are visible. The theme deals with the transitory nature of earthly pursuits, represented here by arms and armour, books and musical instruments. The putto (naked winged boy) at top right allows his torch to dip, a symbol of death, while the putto in the foreground raises a finger to his lips, possibly a reference to the words of the writer Photius: 'those who pass by tombs keep silent'. The book below the urn in the centre is Il Satiricon by Petronius, which contains a moving oration on the mutability of fortune and the vanity of ambition. Castiglione made a painting of the same subject around the same time (now in The Getty Museum, Los Angeles).


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