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We know little about the career of Antonio de Pereda, apart from the fact that
he received his training in Madrid. The dear influence of Netherlandish painting is characteristic of his work, and this is particularly true of the present Allegory. It occupies a special place in the art of Madrid, because with it Pereda introduced to Spanish painting motifs of vanity symbolism long established in Netherlandish art: the brilliant and subtly differentiated depiction of skulls, a blown-out candle, an hourglass (to its left the line “Nil omne” – “All is nothing”) and brittle folios. Pereda arranges these items together with precious pieces of armour and a firearm on a bare wooden surface. Time, happiness, wartime fame, beauty and science are the exposed attributes of vanity, which the winged Genius on the far side of the composition presents to the viewer: a precious clock, miniature portraits with a string of pearls (documents of a happy marriage?) and a handful of coins. In his left hand the Genius holds a cameo with the portrait of Emperor Charles V (1500–1558), while his right hand points to a globe, alluding to the world domination of the Casa de Austria. All the above-mentioned details suggest that the painting was a courtly commission. This is all the more likely as we know that Pereda participated in the painterly decoration of the Salón de Reinos in Madrid’s Buen Retiro palace in the early 1630s and thus worked for Spain’s King Philip IV. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010

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