Barthel Bruyn the Elder painted this bridal portrait of Margaretha von Mochau a year after her marriage in 1523 to Gerhard von Westerburg. She was 26 years old at the time, as the artist indicates in the top right corner. The carnation that Gertraude holds in her hand symbolizes pure love. She offers the flower to Gerhard. The pendant panel on which he is portrayed is in a private collection.
Vanitas still life
A vanitas still life is painted on the back of the portrait. With this kind of painting the artist conveys the message that beauty and life’s pleasures are transitory (‘vanitas’ means ‘transience’, ‘futility’).
Mortality versus worldly matters
The skull refers to mortality. The smouldering candle represents the fleeting nature of all worldly things. The Latin phrase ‘Everything perishes through death, death is the end of things’ is consistent with this. The vanitas still life is both literally and figuratively the opposite of the bridal portrait: it shows mortality in contrast to worldly matters.