Boy Blowing Soap Bubbles
14 x 6
Hall 34 — 2nd floor
The oval-shaped marble medallion shows a bas-relief figure of a putto sitting on a grassy slope, with its legs crossed and its back wrapped in the tangles of a voluminous cloak, tied at the neck. The boy leans forward, busy blowing air from a straw in a small bowl of soapy water to produce soap bubbles.
Despite its small size, attention has been paid to the smallest detail of the figuration, such as the blades of grass or the softly intertwining strands of the putto’s hair. The rendering of the slightly altered features of his puffy cheeks, holding in the air required to create the magic of soap bubbles, is meticulous. The concentration with which the child dedicates himself to blow lets the moralizing aspects of the vanitas fade into the background and brings it closer to the refined iconography of genre scenes related to play.
There is a hole in the upper part of the medallion, suggesting it must have originally hung from a wall by nails or hooks.
The work belongs to the collection of Valentino Martinelli (1923–1999), an illustrious art historian and critic. As a collector, he favored the Roman Baroque, acquiring a significant number of paintings, sculptures, drawings and engravings that he bequeathed in 1997 to the City of Perugia. In 2015, the works owned by the City were placed on deposit at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria and put on display in the museum.
The relief derives from a lost work by the Flemish sculptor François Duquesnoy (1597–1643), a leading exponent of the Roman Baroque. In his extensive activity, the artist realized grandiose works intended for public display and the production of small to medium-sized marble or bronze sculptures for private collectors, inspired by ancient themes.
Among these, his putti became a real genre in their own right: these joyful representations of infancy were extremely successful and replicated in infinite variations, produced not only by the artist’s own studio, but also by imitators and followers, including the sculptor of the Martinelli relief.
According to Elena Bianca Di Gioia, the artwork could be “an exercise by a pupil of Ercole Ferrata based on a number of small models in wax, terracotta and plaster by Duquesnoy kept in his studio”.