Vanitas Still Life
De Gheyn was a wealthy amateur who is best known as a brilliant draftsman, but he also painted and engraved. This panel is generally considered to be the earliest known independent still life painting of a vanitas subject. The skull, large bubble, cut flowers, and smoking urn refer to the brevity of life, while images floating in the bubble—such as a wheel of torture and a leper’s rattle—Spanish coins, and a Dutch medal refer to human folly. The figures flanking the arch above are Democritus and Heraclitus, the laughing and weeping philosophers of ancient Greece.
Jacques de Gheyn II (Netherlandish, Antwerp 1565–1629 The Hague)
Born in Antwerp, Jacob de Gheyn I was glass painter, engraver, and draftsman. In 1585, he moved to Haarlem, where he studied under Hendrik Goltzius. He moved again, to Leiden, in the middle of the 1590s. His work attracted the attention of wealthy sponsors, and his first commission was for an engraving of the Siege of Geertruidenberg from Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange. De Gheyn painted some of the earliest female nudes, vanitas, and floral still lifes in Dutch art. He is credited with creating over 1,500 drawings, including landscapes and natural history illustrations. He produced 117 engravings for the military manual The Exercise of Armes while living in Amsterdam.
The Dutch School painters can be dated as Early Netherlandish (1400–1500), Dutch Renaissance (1500–1584), and, later, Dutch Golden Age painting in the United Provinces. The detailed realism of Early Netherlandish painting, led by Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the 1420s and 1430s, is today generally considered to be the beginning of the early Northern Renaissance in painting. This style was greatly respected in Italy, but there was little reciprocal influence on the North until nearly the end of the 15th century. Despite frequent cultural and artistic exchange, the Antwerp Mannerists (1500–1530) were unrelated to Italian Mannerism. Among notable northern painters were highly individualistic artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder who developed styles that were imitated by many subsequent generations. In the 16th century northern painters increasingly traveled to Italy, so the art of Michelangelo and Raphael and the late Renaissance Mannerism had a great impact on their work. Hieronymus Bosch and Geertgen tot Sint Jans are well-known examples of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Dutch painters. In the northern Netherlands, the Reformation brought religious painting almost completely to an end. Portrait painting was slow to spread from the elite to new riches. By the end of the 16th century, artists such as Karel van Mander and Hendrik Goltzius collected in Haarlem in a brief but intense phase of Northern Mannerism that also spread to Flanders. Between 1605 and 1635 over 100,000 paintings were produced in Haarlem. Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan Steen are just a few names form the seventeenth century.