Boy with theatre masks
Allegory of Melancholy
Willem van den Broecke, attr.
Antwerp, ca 1560
Inscription 'Qvo Me / Fata Vocant' ['Where the Fates Summon Me']
Height ca 26.5 cm, width ca 24 cm, depth ca 11 cm
Provenance: Vienna, Hofstätter Collection
A naked boy is half lying, half sitting on a rectangular pedestal, contemplating theatre masks resting in front of him. As a sign of contemplation and a meditational gesture, he has bent one leg to rest his elbow on it so that he can support his head pensively on his hand. This composition derives from one of Michelangelo’s most famous works: the female personification of Night, which the famous sculptor carved for the tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici in San Lorenzo in Florence. The boy’s muscular body, which contrasts with the childlike head, also derives from Italian and ancient prototypes. Although this unusual alabaster sculpture is not signed, it can be definitively attributed to the Antwerp sculptor Willem van den Broecke, who is also known under the Latin name Guillelmus Paludanus. In respect of composition, formal language and iconography the work is closely related to signed works and sculptures verifiably attributed to van den Broecke, which are in a Belgian private collection, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Kunstkammer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan. That the present figure is an allegory of Melancholy is suggested not only by the boy’s pose but also by the Latin inscription on the pedestal: ‘QVO ME / FATA VOCANT’ [‘WHERE THE FATES SUMMON ME’]. Taken in conjunction with the theatre masks, this inscription can be interpreted as a reference to life as a comedy that is played out according to the rules of drama without the participating characters being in the slightest able to influence what is happening.