POORTER, Willem de
(b. 1608, Haarlem - after 1648, ?)

Still-Life with Weapons and Banners

Oil on wood, 23 x 18 cm
Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig

It can hardly be a coincidence that armour and weapons often occur in still-lifes painted during the Thirty Years' War. This war, which caused unimaginable suffering, was originally started by the Spanish-Austrian House of Habsburg together with the League of the Roman Catholic Estates of the Empire. They were committed to the Counter-Reformation and wanted to re-catholicize the rebellious Republic of the United Netherlands after it had become independent in 1609, and in particular to conquer the economic resources of this wealthy country. Subsequently, however, the war spread more an more widely, with the involvement of an increasing number of countries. Dragging on interminably, the final phase was marked by soldiers pillaging, looting and brutally exploiting the civilian population.

This is the background of paintings like Poorter's still-life. Painted in 1636, it provides an emblematic, impressionist commentary on the war. In 1634 the Imperial troops had gained a victory at Nördlingen, so that the situation changed in favour of the League. This may well explain the "vanitas" character of the painting, expressed in the skull and the sarcophagus behind the banner which divides the picture diagonally into two parts. Thus, the victories of the other side are made to seem bearable, as they are mere vanity in the face of eternity. The crown and sceptre on the sarcophagus are a clear reference to the Emperor's power.