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Caspar Netscher, Two Boys blowing Bubbles

Key facts
Full title Two Boys blowing Bubbles
Artist Caspar Netscher
Artist dates 1635/6 - 1684
Date made about 1670
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 31.2 × 24.6 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG843
Location Room 16
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Two Boys blowing Bubbles
Caspar Netscher

A velvet curtain drawn back from a stone window reveals a little boy, who gazes upwards at a bubble floating past him and into the darkness. In the shadows behind, a smaller child concentrates equally fiercely. Using a long pipe he blows bubbles in the soapy liquid held in a cockle shell. Already a tiny iridescent sphere is forming.

The painting is a homo bulla (‘man is a bubble’). Because bubbles burst so quickly, this is an allegory intended to suggest the shortness of life. The tradition of the homo bulla reaches back into medieval times when the children were portrayed nude, as putti or cherubs with wings. The Dutch, although embracing the idea as a life warning, seem to have preferred their children more realistic and fully clad.

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