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Vanitas

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Franciscus Gijsbrechts
Active between 1672 - 1677
Oil on canvas
115 x 134 cm
Inventory number 5102

The term vanitas refers to a still-life that symbolises the transient nature of human existence. Franciscus Gijsbrechts specialised in the genre. In this example, the central object is a skull, a reminder of the inevitability of mortality. The upper jaw rests on a closed book. An empty hourglass and an almost burned candle refer to the passing of time. The soap bubbles in the right of the picture symbolise the fragility of life. The marble tabletop is cracked, suggesting that even the hardest stone is transient in the context of eternity. The pipe, the paper and tobacco, the music score and the instruments are all references to the small pleasures in life, which are as ephemeral as smoke and as fleeting as music. The book and the pince-nez refer to the relativity of knowledge. The royal decree beneath the skull and the globe in the background represent power and wealth, for even the mightiest and richest cannot escape death.

Immortal art

All the objects in the painting serve to remind the viewer of the brevity of life and the necessity to use one's limited earthly time well by studying or working. It is by painting that the artist achieves immortality: he lives on by and in his work. In this particular painting, Gijsbrechts literally immortalised his name through his signature on the table-leg.

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