Vanitas Still Life

J Falk (Dutch, 1600-1699)

Currently on View in H215
Image Licensing

Popular among the Dutch, vanitas still life painting is based on the theme of death’s inevitability. The symbolism of the skull is obvious, but the rose (quick to wilt) and oil lamp (easily snuffed out) also refer to life’s brevity and fragility. The vanitas symbolism is underscored by the Latin inscription: “All that is human is smoke, show, vanity and the picture of a stage.”

An X-ray taken during routine technical studies of this painting (shown below) reveals what appears to be a portrait of a woman. We do not know who she was or why she was painted over. Research is ongoing to attempt to solve this mystery.

Private Dutch Collection, possibly in The Hague, by 1933. {1} (Alfred Brod, London, England); {2} purchased by the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1959.

{1} The painting was included in the exhibition "Het Stilleven" held at the Kunsthandel J. Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 18 February - 19 March 1933, 92 (as Jeremias Falck, "Twee doodskoppen met roos," 1629) with the provenance "Particuliere Nederlandsche verzameling." When it was illustrated in an article by Marcel George Roethlisberger, "Abraham Bloemaert's Vanitas Representations," Delineavit et sculpsit (Leiden), vol 5, 1991, no. 9, the author lists the (former) owner as "The Hague, Private Collection."
As concerns a possible Goudstikker connection, this painting is not included in the May 1940 Goudstikker Blackbook which has recently been digitized, see
{2} IMA Temporary Receipt No. 6723. The painting was probably included as no. 8 in the Alfred Brod Gallery's Winter Exhibition 1957, 6 December 1957-4 January 1958.

Object Information

J Falk (Dutch, 1600-1699)
creation date
oil on panel
18-1/8 x 15 in.
24 x 24 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Inscribed, l.r.: A. 1629
Signed l.r.: J. Falk f.
Inscribed, l.r.: Humana cuncta fumus, umbra, vanitas, et scenae imago. (All that is human is smoke, shadow, vanity and the picture of a stage.)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Alfred Brod
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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