Giovanni Martinelli

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Giovanni Martinelli, Italian, 1600-1659, Memento Mori: Death Comes to the Table, 1620-1659, Oil on canvas. Partial gift by an anonymous donor; gift of Mrs. James Alsdorf, by exchange; Mr. and Mrs. Robert Raclin, Mr. and Mrs. Russell G. Ashbaugh, Mr. Joseph Richard Skelton funds, 1999.024.

 

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

 

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Who made it?

Giovanni Martinelli worked in Florence, Italy, during the 17th-century. His subjects were often religious or moralizing. Little is known about his early career, but records indicate that he was commissioned to create several paintings (now lost) for the church of San Leonardo in Grosseto. This commission suggests that he was a well-known and successful painter at the time. His later works are influenced by time spent in Rome, where Martinelli studied the works of Caravaggio, an Italian painter known for his dramatic images containing dynamically posed figures bathed in intense light and shadow. This influence can be seen in many of Martinelli's later works, including this one.


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What's going on in this work?

In this painting, an unexpected visitor interrupts a fancy meal where a group of well-dressed young people is enjoying food, music, and conversation. The surprising (and uninvited) visitor—a skeleton—represents Death, who comes for us all. This type of painting is called a memento mori, a Latin term meaning “remember, you shall die.” Though this sounds like a morbid topic for a painting, works like this had an important purpose. They served to remind people that youth, beauty, money, and power were fleeting and that they should instead focus their energy on more important things such as being a good person and living a good life.  

Martinelli created multiple versions of this painting by changing such details as the people, food, and chairs—variations on a theme that suggests it was a popular subject for him.


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Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of Memento Mori: Death Comes to the Table above to see a larger version of the work. Look closely at the painting and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family, a friend virtually, or with us by responding to this email.  

  • Describe the emotions you see in the figures around the table. How does each of them react to the arrival of the skeleton?
  • If each person had a thought bubble above their head, what might they be thinking at this moment? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What is the mood of this painting, and how has the artist created it?
  • What do you think was happening right before the skeleton arrived? What do you think will happen right after the moment we see in this painting?

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Image credits:
Giovanni Martinelli, Italian, 1600-1659, Memento Mori: Death Comes to the Table, 1620-1659, Oil on canvas. Partial gift by an anonymous donor; gift of Mrs. James Alsdorf, by exchange; Mr. and Mrs. Robert Raclin, Mr. and Mrs. Russell G. Ashbaugh, Mr. Joseph Richard Skelton funds, 1999.024. | Three detailed views of Memento Mori: Death Comes to the Table in a circular format. | Friends of the Snite Museum logo.