Vanitas Still Life

Pieter Claesz1625

Frans Hals Museum

Frans Hals Museum
Haarlem, Netherlands

A candlestick holding the waxencrusted stub of a candle, a watch, a letter, a pen and an inkpot, a flower, a skull and a walnut are arranged on a table. Every one of these objects is part of the established repertoire of Vanitas symbolism and alludes to the passing of time and to mortality.
The flower at the edge of the table is an anemone. It appears newly picked; the petals and the leaves are still fresh, but it will not be long before the flower withers. The Roman poet Ovid called the anemone a ‘windflower’, because it clings to life for such a short time. In this still life, with its message of time slipping by, the flower certainly refers to the fugitive nature of life. Pieter Claesz is known chiefly for his monochrome still lifes. In this little panel, which dates from 1625, there are still many colourful elements like the red and white of the anemone and the blue of the silk ribbon attached to the pocket watch. After about 1630 he used only muted tones of grey, green and yellow.
Claesz came from Berchem, near Antwerp. He was twenty-four when he settled in Haarlem around 1621 as a fully-qualified artist. His first son was born in Haarlem. In 1622; he, too, became a painter, calling himself after his father’s birthplace. He was Nicolaes Berchem. Pieter Claesz specialized in painting breakfast pieces, ‘little banquets’ and Vanitas still lifes, and his lead was followed by a great many artists.


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