The painting is oil on Canvas by the Dutch artist Jan Jacob Spohler (1811-1879) titled The Swan or Her Zwaantjie. The painting is a landscape with a building on the right side of a road, a small ship to the left and a large area of sky dominating the top half. The top half of the painting consists of a cloudy sky with a dark cloud in the top right hand corner and a split in the clouds in the center. “Het Zwaantjie” is an inn that is conjured up by the artist’s imagination and not necessarily a real place. The painting is rich with symbolism that include a ghostly/angel-like figure/apparition at the entrance of the inn to the left of the door against the wall, the swan on the advertisement Board, the knotted bale of hay on the roof of the storage area and the black flag hanging from the boat, all of which are symbols for death or bereavement. The Swan, which is the name of the inn and also the title of the work, is commonly seen as the bird that will take your soul on to the next world. The inn is also seen as a temporary dwelling, making the inn an allegory for the place in-between life and the afterlife, therefore there is no bridge connecting the inn with the town. The boat is probably a play on the Roman boat taking someone to the afterlife over the river Styx mixed with the Catholic Purgatory. The signpost next to the road probably shows a particular moment in life with a traveler moving from the inn on the afterlife. The symbols above therefore denote that the painting is an allegory for someone’s death. In the background is the St. Dionysius church located in the town of Tilburg and built in 1826. This gives us a possible place where the death occurred. On the left side of the painting one can notice an orange white and blue flag at the back of the boat, which resembles the national flag of the Netherlands. This may provide a clue as to the death of a certain individual: Putting these three elements of death, the church of Tilburg and the Dutch national flag together allows for the assumption that the painting is about the death of King Willem II of the Netherlands, best known for his lead of the vanguard of the battle of Waterloo, suddenly died at the age of 57 in 1849 in the town of Tilburg in the province of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands. An interesting thing to notice is that everyone is dressed about the same which makes the point that in death king or laymen are all equal, a reference to the Dance Macabre.


  • Title: The Swan
  • Creator: Jan Jacob Spohler
  • Date Created: 1849
  • Location Created: Netherlands
  • Physical Dimensions: 580mm x 850mm
  • Type: Painting
  • Original Source: University of Pretoria Museums
  • Rights: Copyright University of Pretoria
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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