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Edwaert Colyer was a specialist in trompe l'oeil compositions like this one, designed to fool the eye with its convincing illusion of reality.
The letter rack holds papers that relate to important political events during the reign of William III of England. There is a copy of the king's speech to Parliament following a failed attempt to assassinate him and a paper that alludes to the Treaty of Turin (1696), which precipitated the collapse of the Grand Alliance against the French. Another folded paper is inscribed with the artist's name. The painting can perhaps be understood as a comment on the fleeting nature of earthly power.