Carl Spitzweg takes the viewer into a library of the second half of the 18th century, decorated in rococo style. The librarian’s dress is also of that period. The old man is standing at the top of the ladder, nearsightedly reading in a book. Another open book is in his right hand. He holds a third one under his left arm, and with his knees the fourth. Here, written works become part of the librarian’s physical existence, making him a “bookish” person in the real sense of the word.
Spitzweg’s Bookworm is as equally myopic as Norman Rockwell’s. Spitzweg treats this with a sense of irony, as his subject is reading in the “Metaphysics” section of the library. The field of metaphysics is concerned with grand philosophical inquiry, but this Bookworm appears mired in minutia.