CLAESZ., Pieter
(b. ca. 1597, Steinfurt, d. 1661, Haarlem)

Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball

c. 1628
Oil on panel, 36 x 59 cm
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

In his Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, Pieter Claesz expounds a theorem of his art. The eye is guided to the various details by the lighting. The overturned glass, drained to the very last drop, seems to symbolize the briefness of worldly pleasures. The pocket watch is facing away from us and has its back open, as if someone had tried to fathom the mysterious nature of time. The violin, its bow lying obliquely across its strings, is angled diagonally towards the background. The instrument probably symbolizes the comparison and rivalry between the two arts of painting and music. Together with the book, the quill and its holder refer to writing, literature and the logocentric character of the vanitas.

The glass ball is a fascinating, unusual motif. Reflected in its spherical surface is a self-portrait of the artist at his easel. Since he is present in effigie (i.e. in image), the artist does not need to place his signature on the panel, which consequently becomes a true autobiographical document: "pictor in tabula" - the painter is in the picture. The reflection of Claesz's self-portrait in his still-life may also be understood as a pointer to the fact that every painting conceals more than it reveals. In its reflective fragility, the glass ball also recalls a soap bubble, a conventional symbol in still-life painting for the fatal frailty of human life - man is like a soap bubble.