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Comedy and Tragedy: Sic Vita: M.1-2003

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


Comedy and Tragedy: Sic Vita
Translated as: Comedy and Tragedy: Such is Life


Sculptor: Gilbert, Alfred




Bronze, cast, supported on green figured marble base. A nude youth, wearing a visor-like mask pushed back above his face, and holding in both hands a large gaping mask of Comedy, stands on the ball of his left foot and looks down towards his bent and raised left leg. A bee has just stung the calf and he grimaces in pain to form the mask of Tragedy. The octagonal base rises up in the middle into a circular socle with a depression in the top in which the circular base of the bronze stands.


History note: Purchased from The Fine Art Society Ltd., Bond Street, London W 1, for £60 by Derek Parsons in 1943; sold by him to G.C.Arnallt Jones on 21 December 1944; his brother-in-law Ivor Glyndwr Davies,Cardiff; his niece, Mrs Margaret Rowena Davey, née Davies (1917-2002); accepted by H.M. Treasury in lieu of capital taxes and allocated to The Fitzwilliam Museum from the estate of Mrs Davey.

Legal notes

Accepted by H.M. Treasury in lieu of capital taxes and allocated to The Fitzwilliam Museum

Measurements and weight

Height: 37 cm

Place(s) associated

  • London ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Allocated (2003-10-20) by H.M. Treasury


19th Century, Late#
Circa 1891 CE - Circa 1892 CE


Comedy and Tragedy was the name of a play by W.S. Gilbert which the sculptor had seen several times. He added the comment ‘Sic Vita’ (such is life) . The bee symbolizes love, and its sting, the pain love causes.The bronze originated in a sketch made in 1890, and in 1891, Gilbert developed his idea, using an Italian, Angelo Colorossi, as a model for the youth. The polychromed plaster sculpture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1892. Bronzes were cast in two sizes, 29 in (73.7 cm) and 14 in (36.8 cm). Between 1902 and 1905 Gilbert or his son ordered casts of several of his most popular works through the Compagnie des Bronzes in Brussels, but this bronze does not bear the foundry’s mark.

Sir Alfred Gilbert RA MVO (1854-1934) was an English sculptor. He studied in London, Paris and Rome, returning to England in 1884. Gilbert was the leading artist in the New Sculpture movement, which revitalised sculpture in late nineteenth-century Britain. He was also a vital force in reintroducing the lost-wax technique for casting works of art in bronze in England (sand-casting had been the norm for bronze sculpture since the 18th century, with lost-wax casting used only for small-scale work and jewellery). His commissions included the jubilee memorial to Queen Victoria in Winchester and the statue of Eros, in aluminium, for the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus, and in 1900 he was appointed Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy. A period of bankruptcy and divorce followed, and Gilbert moved to Bruges. On his return to England in 1926, his fortunes improved, the highlight being the bronze Queen Alexandra Memorial, at Marlborough House, London, 1926-32. He was knighted by George V in 1932. Gilbert died in poverty in 1934.

Cast by the indirect lost wax process

School or Style

New Sculpture Movement

People, subjects and objects depicted


  • Sculpture UK

Components of the work

Figure composed of patina ( applied) bronze ( presumed)
Base composed of marble ( dark green figured) Width 9.9 cm

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.1-2003
Primary reference Number: 95764
External ID: CAM_CCF_M_1_2003
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Thursday 12 November 2020 Last processed: Friday 8 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Comedy and Tragedy: Sic Vita" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-06-22 08:18:03

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