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Work Allegory of the Vices

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Allégorie des Vices, un jeune homme entrant dans le Jardin des Plaisirs

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Bartolucci Sara

Federico Zuccaro conceives the Allegory of the Vices as a ceremony taking place during a Bacchic ritual: to the rhythm of the drum of Death, the god of wine guides the dancing, accompanied by his faithful companion, Silenus, and the bacchantes. This drawing, like its counterpart, the Allegory of the Virtues, was used as a model for the fresco decoration in the artist's own studio in Rome, from 1577 to 1578.

The dance of the Vices

The foreground of the drawing is populated by a crowd of figures (incarnations of the Vices) dancing around Death, who is beating out a macabre rhythm. From left to right, the group is composed of: Silenus, the personification of Sloth, seated on his ass; a veiled woman, the symbol of Infamy; Bacchus, who symbolizes Concupiscence; Gambling, who is throwing dice; and, behind him, the faun with his double-edged sword, representing Treachery. In the background, Will is making Pride (the young man with the peacock) choose between Lust, on the left, and Concupiscence, on the right. In the garden of earthly delights, between vain pleasure and false charm, inexperienced youth guides Folly and Vanity; on the other side, figures bustle around Pride. Zuccaro has chosen to represent the scene in a highly didactic manner, even going so far as to add the names of the figures beside each Vice. By the time that Cesare Ripa wrote his Iconologia in 1593, the language of allegory would be so widespread that it would no longer be necessary to write down the names of the allegories to distinguish them from one another, because everyone would be capable of recognizing them by their attributes.

Transposition of a medieval image

This scene takes up the themes of the Dance of Death and the encounter with Death, which were extremely familiar subjects during the late Middle Ages, and often depicted in Germany. In spite of how this image may appear to the spectator at first glance, the theory that the drawing demonstrates an attachment to this taste for the macabre, as late as the sixteenth century, seems weak. More likely, the artist is using an iconographic cliché borrowed from the Middle Ages, and is completely renewing its initial meaning. It is entirely probable that Zuccaro, instead of merely dealing with the theme of the Triumph of Death, wished to emphasize that it may be the destiny of those who choose the Vices.

A humanist spirit

The Allegory of the Vices is the counterpart to the Allegory of the Virtues, a drawing which shows a young man in the garden of the Liberal Arts (Janos Scholz collection, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York). These subjects were represented by the artist when he decorated his house (probably his studio), from 1577 to 1578. By contrasting the Vices with Study, as opposites, Zuccaro has established an iconographic system whose precepts are inspired by the purest of humanist spirits. The themes tackled in both works have been compared with the iconography in the famous cartoon for the Porta Virtutis, which Zuccaro produced later, in 1581. The Allegory of the Vices also has a satirical dimension: it serves as a pretext for the artist to avenge his Bolognese critics, by casting them as burlesque vices - something that was widely talked about in Rome at the time.


Acidini Luchinat Cristina, Taddeo e Federico Zuccari fratelli pittori nel Cinquecento, vol. II, Florence, 1999, pp. 140-141, fig. 38.Gere John Arthur, Dessins de Taddeo et Federico Zuccari, XLIIe exposition du cabinet des dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1969, p. 63, notice 81, pl. XIX.Michel Régis, Les mots dans le dessin, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986, pp. 37-38, notice 35.Viatte Françoise, in Le Seizième Siècle européen. Dessins du Louvre, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1965, p. 105, notice 255, pl. LXIX.

Technical description

  • Federico ZUCCARO (Sant'Angelo in Vado, circa 1540/41-Ancona, 1609)

    Allegory of the Vices

    Between 1574 and 1578

  • Pen and brown ink, brown wash with white highlights over red chalk marks

    H. 23.5 cm; W. 36.2 cm

  • Chevalier de Damery collection; acquired by the Louvre during the French Revolution.

    INV 23201

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

"GIARDINO DELLE DELIZIE MONDANE" (garden of earthly delights) is written in pen on the pediment of the entrance to the central portico. The name of each Vice is written in black chalk or pen.