Watched over by Koninck’s Philosopher with his melancholy gaze are still lifes and fl oral compositions that refl ect the concept of vanitas underlying 17th-century art: the passing of time, the vanity of beauty and worldly things and the presence of death. A small anonymous portrait of Mariana of Austria, whose appearance refl ects Velázquez’s depictions of her, reminds us that fl owers, due to their beauty and delicate scent, were one of the attributes of queens. Brueghel the Younger presents the Earth’s bounty in his allegory of Abundance, which includes all that man might hope to fi nd during his brief existence, also subtly referred to in Van der Hamen’s exquisite fruit. The Flemish painters maintained the tradition of a dazzlingly realistic depiction of nature initiated by their predecessors and one based on a capacity for abstraction, a lack of pedantry in the rendering of detail and the use of selective intensity to bring the paint to life. The result, as we see in Van Vollenhoven’s starling in his still life, is a bird that is a bird and not its painted image, refl ecting the feats of the ancient Greek painters such as Parrhasius and Zeuxis. The solemn, tomb-like architectural setting for this group of small dead birds is no less impressive than the dark void around Zurbarán’s lamb or around Metsu’s white chicken. The French painter Linard expresses the vanity of knowledge, while Steenwijck conveys the speed with which all worldly pleasures vanish. The only option is to fl ee the scene, perhaps on Jan Brueghel the Younger’s fi ne white horse on which we could perhaps gallop through his Paradise.

 
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