The celestial globe on the table in the background and the open book on the right suggest that the man wearing a scholar's cap and gown is an astrologer. The illustration of a hand in the book may refer to palmistry. According to a widespread belief in the 17th century the combination of astrology and palmistry could be used to foretell a person's fate. However, aware of the ultimate futility of his efforts, the scholar's slumped pose and absent gaze indicate a melancholic state of mind. As such his depiction exists within a tradition of images of scholars going back to Dürer (1471 - 1528), in which the subjects are shown contemplating the futility of their studies in view of the inevitability of their mortality.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN