This terracotta model of Time and Death is probably by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the leading Baroque sculptor in Rome. Modelled originally in the malleable material of clay, which has been fired to become terracotta, it still bears the imprint of the maker's touch and tools, with the back peppered with fingerprints. Models of this kind allowed sculptors to work out their compositions in three dimensions. As clay is fragile, the sketches were often fired to keep them in the studio, but they had already become sought by collectors during the sixteenth century as evidence of the artist's creative process.
This model, which shows Time dominating the skeletal figure of Death, conveys the message that the passage of time confirms the immortality of the deceased's reputation through fame (or of their soul through redemption). Here, Time raises the coffin out of Death's reach, thus cheating him of his prize. Death's missing arm was apparently holding open the lid of a catacomb, or underground burial chamber, the entrance of which is suggested by the circle roughly incised on the ground. Death appears to emerge from the ground itself, his skeletal form half decomposed and otherworldly. He effectively meet's Time's gaze, signalling a silent communication in which he must admit defeat. Nevertheless, he retains a tight grip on the shroud, with muscles tensed - a last desperate attempt to seize the coffin. Time and Death are commonly found in contemporary Roman tombs, where they appear more or less interchangeably as reminders of mortality. While this piece confirms the triumph of immortality, it equally provides a reminder of the omnipresence and inevitability of death.
The sculptor, most likely Bernini himself, retains the traditional depiction of 'Father Time', while lifting from the classical imagery in the representation of a muscular torso and flowing hair, reminiscent of figures such as the Laocoön and the Greek gods. The suggested movement of Time's mantle, which snakes around his body, combined with the upward thrust of his torso and arms, creates a dynamism that is typical of Bernini's sculpture. Similarly, the heightened dramatisation of the scene characterises the theatricality of Baroque art.
Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case CA1
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Scanned : Photogrammetry (Processed using Agisoft PhotoScan)
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London