In mid-career, Cagnacci turned to subjects that allowed him to deploy his talent for female nudes. Here, the woman is surrounded by symbols of the transience of life: the full-blown rose, the hourglass, the skull and the barely-burning candles are found in many vanitas paintings. At the same time she gazes at an ouroboros, the self-devouring snake which is a symbol of eternity and renewal. Though this painting may be an early copy, Cagnacci often made several versions of his own compositions.
Guido Cagnacci began his training in Bologna before moving to Rome in 1618 to work with the painter Guercino. His greatest success came in the town of Forlì in the 1630s, though his turbulent personal life soon damaged his career. He opened a workshop in Venice and late in life was appointed court painter to the Holy Roman Emperor.