Collier put his initials in two places on this early work: "EC" in monogram, above the date 1662 on the almanac (where the quill pen could suggest the freshness of the inscription); and "E · K" on the gold ring (Kollier was a common alternative spelling, often used by the artist himself). The painting is a fairly conventional, but well-conceived and well-composed, vanitas picture. The focus of the design in the area of the tipped-over silver tazza and green-glass roemer
(which with the watch recall still lifes by Willem Claesz Heda) and the organization overall, with various X-patterns countering the impression of disarray, indicate that in his early twenties Collier had already mastered the syntax of a visual language in which earlier masters, including Pieter Claesz and Jan de Heem, had expressed themselves. The actual execution is another matter: Collier has a dry, rather petty touch, which he overcomes somewhat in the elaborate decorations of the tazza and other reflective surfaces. Even allowing for condition problems, however, the pearls (on a red ribbon), the moneybag, the oil lamp (with a faintly smoking wick), and the books look nearly as wooden as the violin and the shawm. Later works cannot be described as great advances beyond this point.
Heda also comes to mind in connection with the fancy glass pitcher in the left background, and with the "monochrome" tonality throughout. Except for isolated patches of local color, the palette is quite restrained, perhaps in deference to the sober tenor of the subject. Some loss of color is the result of age, but the hints of burgundy in the table cover and the red in the flag were always subordinate to browns.
The flag must refer to military or, more specifically, civic guard service, and is thus a sign of worldly honor (compare Rembrandt's The Standard Bearer (Floris Soop)
in The Met's collection, 49.7.35
). In general, the objects refer to wealth and individual accomplishment, with (as often in Leiden still lifes) the vanity of learning given particular emphasis. Literature, secular music (unidentified), and hobbies such as astronomy (indicated by the crude version of a Blaeu celestial globe) will all pass away like whiffs of smoke, days marked by an almanac, hours ticked off by a watch, a tune played on the shawm, and measures of music. A string on the violin has conspicuously snapped. In this familiar context one hardly needs the skull, the hourglass, and the inscription in the center, "VANITAS."
Collier often included books and prints in his vanitas pictures. In some cases they represent mundane diversions, but usually the books and the person portrayed in a print are meant for the viewer's edification. The portrait print of the popular writer Jacob Cats (1577-1660) in The Met's painting was engraved by Michael Natalis after Pieter Dubordieu, and was published in Alle de wercken van Jacob Cats
(1655). Collier raised and enlarged the first line of the inscription, which is below the image in the actual print, and set it off on a plaque. Cats had recently died, and he serves here as an exemplary figure, remembered for public service and moral advice. The large book is one volume of a Dutch edition of The Decades, or Fifty Sermons Divided into Five Decades
, by the Swiss reformer Johann Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575). Each "decade" consists of ten sermons. The third decade opens with sermons on material possessions, wealth, theft, and so on.
The earliest known dated painting by Collier is evidently a less ambitious vanitas still life of 1661 (sold by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at Christie's, New York, June 15, 1985, no. 33), in which some similar motifs are found. Several still lifes by Collier are dated 1662, including a canvas in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; a canvas on the art market in 1999; and another sold in 2001. Comparable pictures date from the succeeding years.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]