Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (Dutch, 1565–1629)
Oil on wood
32 1/2 x 21 1/4 in. (82.6 x 54 cm)
Charles B. Curtis, Marquand, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, 1974 (1974.1)
De Gheyn was a wealthy amateur who is best known as a brilliant draftsman, but he also painted and engraved. He was prominent in intellectual circles at Leiden and the Hague. The Museum's panel is generally regarded as the earliest known vanitas still life in European painting. Images and texts of the period often compare human existence to a bubble, cut flowers, smoke, and other reminders of life's brevity. Fame and wealth share this fate, as is suggested by the Spanish coins (one of which represents the former Habsburg emperor Charles V and his mother, Joanna of Aragon and Castile). The laughing and weeping philosophers, Democritus and Heraclitus, reflect upon the vanity of human life, which is symbolized further by objects floating in the bubble, such as a wheel of torture, a leper's rattle, a broken glass, and a flaming heart.