Vanitas still life reflects upon the transient character of life. During the 17th century this became an important subject in still life painting. Often a person is painted looking into a mirror. Our painter has gone one step further: a skull, surrounded by all that one looses when dying, is looking into a mirror and wondering about death.
About Vanitas still lifes
Vanitas still lifes are meditations on the ephemeral character of life: on the vanity of beauty, knowledge, power, pleasure, music, of life itself. They inspire their viewers to think about life, death and resurrection.
During the 17th century Vanitas still lifes were a popular subject of paintings among intellectuals, both Catholics and Protestants, and of course also Jansenists.
About our painting
The identification of the painter of this 17th century Vanitas still life has remained a mystery until now: the RKD in The Hague has refuted attributions to the Flemish painter Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts and to the Dutch painters Edwaert Collier and Pieter Gerritsz. van Roestraeten.
Skulls, emblems of mortality and mirrors obviously very often occur in Vanitas still lifes. But never have I seen the genius combination that one finds here of the skull observing its own reflection in a mirror, a burning candle, symbol of spiritual enlightenment, next to it. The closest treatment of a similar subject was painted by Cornelis van der Meulen in 1688: the skull looks at us and is partly reflected in a mirror besides it.
Why should you buy this painting?
The answer lays partly in the famous words of the French philosopher René Descartes (1596 – 1650): ‘Cogito ergo sum’ = ‘I think, therefore I am’.
One word is missing there and its addition gives the philosophical proposition a much deeper and more human sense: ‘dubito’. Hence ‘dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum’ = ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am’.
It is important to keep doubting. This painting will remind you of doing so.
The idea of painting a skull reflecting upon its vanity in a mirror is a stroke of genius.