Naked Old Woman
Daniel Mauch

ca. 1520

Height 20.7 cm



Unlike the Hideous Old Woman, this nude is depicted as an old woman on all sides. The roundness of hip, breast, and midriff typical of the image of a woman at the time has gone flabby; her arms and legs have grown thin; her face, neck, knee and buttocks are wrinkled. These features initially appear naturalistic. On closer inspection, however, the anatomical observation seems relatively abstract and the details stylized. The decisive factor here is not an interest in nature but rather, as in the case of the Hideous Old Woman, a warning about the transience and inanity of everything worldly—the original meaning of “vanity”. Its symbol is found in the mirror the old woman once held in her right hand and before which she poses clumsily. Hence her artificial smile as well.

Once again, an ancient depiction served as an example: Venus with her mirror. Yet what the goddess of beauty possessed in terms of youth and seductive power, the old woman will never attain again. She refuses to accept that fact, however: not without reason, she wears her hair open, in the manner of young girls and unmarried women.

The work’s complex thematic and formal references as well as its size, material and the quality of its carving suggest that it was intended for a private art collection. Its maker, Daniel Mauch, was the last great Late Gothic sculptor in Ulm. In 1529, he moved to Liège, where the figure was probably executed. But stylistic arguments and the Ulm tradition of small-scale moralizing objects, which—with the Hideous Old Woman and a group in Vienna, the so-called Vanitas—dates back to about 1470, make an earlier dating feasible as well.