Domenico del Barbiere (ca. 1506ca. 1570), after Rosso Fiorentino (Italian, Florentine, 14941540)
Engraving; 9 1/2 x 13 1/8 in. (24.1 x 33.3 cm)
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949 (49.95.181)
Domenico del Barbiere (ca. 1506ca. 1570), a noted sculptor and engraver born in Florence, made his career mainly in France, first in the prosperous city of Troyes and then at the court of Fontainebleau, where many Italian artists enjoyed the patronage of Francis I. The engraving may reproduce a composition by Rosso Fiorentino (14941540), who may have conceived it for a projected book on anatomy. Domenico, however, has signed his own name only (on the cartellino at the extreme left), and some scholars have doubted whether the design is not his own invention.
The engraving depicts two skeletons, each paired with an écorché, or flayed man; all assume a similar pose, which is seen from both front and back. The multiple perspectives indicate the artist's understanding of the anatomical complexities inherent in the classic contrapposto stance. The meaning of the image, however, seems to transcend the purely didactic. The skeleton on the left extends its arm toward the adjacent écorché, who wears a laurel wreath becoming a poet or Caesar. The other skeleton turns its head as though to acknowledge them, and the other écorché pulls the curtain before him, revealing an untidy collection of vessels, armor, and weapons, which, like those exposed on the left, imply imperial ambition and martial splendorstrewn at the feet of uncannily morbid figures.