The Frailty of Human Life, Salvator Rosa, 1656
Painted the same year his brother, son, nephews and nieces were all carried off by the plague that ravaged Naples.
In this piece, Fortuna, a young woman with flowers in her hair, sits on a glass sphere holding a baby. Though this appears to be a religious painting, with poses that echo a Madonna and Child, it is but a memento mori, laced with symbols of the brevity of life. Two putti blow bubbles and burn straw, both representing the ephemeral, and a winged skeleton guides the infant’s hand as he writes, “Conception, sinful; birth, a punishment; life, hard labour; death, inevitable.”