F or the month of October and to celebrate the start of autumn, the Soraya Cartategui Gallery is pleased to present you this magnificent Vanitas work by Adriaen Verdoel which is very representative of the Dutch Golden Age.
Adriaen Verdoel was a German painter who was part of the school of Rembrandt. According to art writer of the time Arnold Houbraken (Dordrecht 1660- Amsterdan 1719), A. Verdoel was Rembrandt’s student from 1640 to 1642. Other experts of the time affirm he worked with Leonard Bramer and J. de Wit. In 1649, Verdoel became part of the Guild of Haarlem and years after he moved to Flushing where he became a known poet in 1675. It is also said that the artist was Dirck Hals’ student and his works resemble those of his teacher. The themes represented in his works are biblical scenes in which Rembrandt’s influence is very evident. Within the wide school of Rembrandt, Verdoel was an exquisite colorist painter who used brown, reds, and warm golden hues masterfully to create special light effects.
Vanitas are a type of painting that represent still lives with elements that are related to the ephemerality of life. They showcase that the human condition is uncertain and not the most important part in life. The literal meaning of “Vanitas” is “light wind, ephemeral vapour”. This references the transitional nature of humans such as the nearness to death.
This wonderful vanitas is very characteristic of the Dutch Golden Age. This piece invokes “the transitional nature of the human life . The decadence and luxury inevitably must end as life is ephemeral; consequently the artist includes a skull, which symbolizes death. Vanitas works had a moral message and reminded the viewer that all pleasures in life come to an end.
The skull in the center of the composition symbolizes death and is surrounded by objects that imply human activities: knowledge, science, wealth, beauty, and pleasures. The hourglass references the passage of time. The hourglass’ shape, two triangles joined at their apexes, can be interpreted as the meeting of the earth and the sky.
The half-burnt candle similarly denotes the ever approaching end of life. The slow burning of the wick becomes an allegory for life and death as the smoke billows upwards, a clear reference to the ascension of the spirit to the above.
The existence of books in these types of compositions reference the spirituality of man and remind us that knowledge and wisdom are eternal. The withered ivy that rests atop the skull, nearby the books, insists that understanding is immortal.
Worldly strength, also fragile and ephemeral, is depicted by the military helmet, which rests atop the sword’s hilt, symbolizing authority and the power, so desired in those years of wars and battles.
The feathers symbolize the virtues of faith, charity, hope and liberty. The elegant fabric of silk and velvet draped over the table reaffirm the banality and luxury of the setting.
The conches presented on the edge of the composition evoke beauty, and curiosity for those objects brought from worlds far away, such as the ocean. The shell also portrays fertility, femininity, and extravagance. Nearby the shells can be seen a woodwind, possibly a flute, which denotes culture and refinement, reaffirming the importance of cultivating the soul and the spirit throughout your time on earth.
As a final point, we would like to highlight, on the far right, a deck of cards, a critique of the way that man dwindles away life through vice, frivolity and mundane distractions.
This work invites a philosophical reflection on the coexistence of the body and soul of the human, and the way in which we decide to embark on the path of life.