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Jan Jansz. Treck, Vanitas Still Life

Key facts
Full title Vanitas Still Life
Artist Jan Jansz. Treck
Artist dates 1605/6 - 1652
Date made 1648
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 90.5 × 78.4 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by Anthony N. Sturt and his wife Marjorie, 1991
Inventory number NG6533
Location Room 23
Collection Main Collection
Vanitas Still Life
Jan Jansz. Treck

Jan Jansz. Treck’s complex but sombre picture is a vanitas, a type of still life that holds a moral message. A still life often presents costly objects in an elegant composition to be admired and discussed by the viewer, like the musical instruments, lacquer box, Rhenish jug and scarf made with gold and silver thread here. A vanitas disturbs the serenity, introducing objects with symbolic meaning: life is short, and luxury and greed – the wearing of glamorous garments, drinking wine and smoking – are worthless in the face of inevitable death.

In Treck’s painting, these are a skull, an overturned hourglass, a straw for blowing bubbles that will burst and disappear and a spent pipe, its still-burning embers by its side. Yet while the painting reminds us of the vanity of all human endeavour, it also drives home the point that art – and Treck’s painting – will endure.

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