Discover how the composition in a still life reveals details about an artist and patron

Vanitas (1678) by Pieter van RoestratenMuseo de Arte de Ponce

Born in Haar­lem around 1630, Van Roestraten left the Netherlands in the 1660s for England, where he had great success as a still life painter in a market dominated by portraiture.

Vanitas was one of Van Roestraten's largest and most elaborate paintings. 

Wil­liam Cavendish, the 3rd Earl of Devonshire, commissioned this painting to showcase his finest luxury objects. The Cavendish family was infamous for their love for luxury objects. 

The painting’s title Vanitas alludes to the ephemeral character of existence. All the terrestrial and material splendor does not hide the unavoidability of our disappearance.

 The skull on the left, a common trope in Vanitas paintings, reminds the viewer of the brevity of life. 

The artist also included the depiction of a text referencing vanitas. 

The vanitas still life likely reminded the wealthy Earl of Devonshire about humility and piety.

Apart from having as a moral message, the painting also serves as a statement of Van Roestraten’s artistic talent. The attention to detail, specially in the rendition of reflective material of the silver through chiaroscuro, confirmed the artist's skill.

 At the top left corner, an orb hanging from the ceiling reflects the image of the artist in his studio. 

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