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Whatever the purpose of this picture, the subject – a shabby man clutching an ale mug and pipe, his eyes cast to the ceiling as if searching in vain for a thought – is meant to be an object of ridicule. It has been suggested that the image might be a vanitas, an allegory of the fleeting nature of life, gone like a puff of smoke from a pipe. Another possibility is that it’s a tronie (‘face’), a painting of a stock character often with an exaggerated facial expression.
Diepraem made a speciality of such pictures, either single tronie portraits or groups of peasants partying in an inn, with the same outlandish expressions – and often with a similar blue and grey jug somewhere in the scene, containing Rhenish wine.
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