attributed to Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten, A Vanitas Still Life

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
A Vanitas Still Life
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 90 cm, Overall width: 130 cm
attributed to Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten (c.1630-1700)
Catalogue Number


This large ‘vanitas’ still life is typical of the work of the Dutch painter Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten (1630–1700). Roestraten was a student of Frans Hals and was based in Amsterdam before moving to London in 1666, where he is recorded as having been injured in the Great Fire. According to an early biographer, Sir Peter Lely recommended Roestraten to his royal patron, Charles II, on condition that he gave up portraiture in favour of still life.

The present composition shows an assortment of symbolic trompe l’oeil objects scattered over a carpeted table, all of which have various possible meanings. The books and papers might refer to study or business – human endeavour – which is to be cut short when the hourglass of life, propped among the sheets, runs out. Beside the box of jewellery is a ceramic pot that might signify wine and positioned in front of it is a small, sculpted skull with eye-sockets gazing directly out at the viewer. Finally, the Chinese porcelain pot and cup on the foremost edge of the table are suggestive of both the leisurely activity of tea drinking and the fashionable status of the imported porcelain, all to be cast aside in the inexorable passing of time. The combination of objects is a memento mori of the levelling effect of death on earthly luxuries. It is possible that the painting is by the ‘Pseudo-Roestraten’, an artist who produced paintings in the manner of Roestraten at the end of the seventeenth century.

The picture was recorded in the inventory of 1928 in the Nursery Corridor: ‘Still Life, table with MSS book and teapot etc in one frame glazed’.

by Emily Burns

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