Skip to main content

Hidden Secret Discovered in 17th Century Painting by Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten

Frances has many years' experience writing about exhibitions in art galleries and museums.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten 'A Vanitas.' Copyright image Frances Spiegel with Permission from Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten 'A Vanitas.' Copyright image Frances Spiegel with Permission from Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved.

Royal Collection Trust

The Royal Collection is one of the world's finest and most comprehensive collections. Comprising beautiful examples of almost every type of fine and decorative art and housed in fifteen royal residences (and former residences) across the UK, the Collection is held in trust by the Monarch for the nation.

A major part of the Trust's remit is to make these works of art available to the public and they do this through a programme of outstanding exhibitions held at The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace and other royal residences across the UK.

Portrait of the Artist was an exhibition held in 2016. Whilst preparing one particular painting this display conservators discovered a new element hidden in a 17th-century Dutch painting, Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten's A Vanitas, which at first glance looks like a still life typical of the period.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten, 'A Vanitas,' detail. Copyright image Frances Spiegel with Permission from Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten, 'A Vanitas,' detail. Copyright image Frances Spiegel with Permission from Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved.

'A Vanitas' by Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten


Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten (c.1630–1700) was a pupil and son-in-law of Frans Hals. He established himself as a still-life painter in London in 1666 – he was injured in the Great Fire of London. He became especially well-known for his paintings of luxury items and seemed to enjoy encouraging viewers to search for hidden elements in his work. At least nine works by Roestraten feature reflected self-portraits.

A 'vanitas' (Latin, “vanity”) was a specific genre of still-life painting popular in Holland in the early 17th century. Containing objects symbolising the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly pride and pleasures, the vanitas encourages the viewer to consider their own mortality and to repent.

Scroll to Continue

Roestraten's A Vanitas features a group of inanimate objects displayed on a chest. Various items, some coins, a silver jar, a silver pocket-watch on a silk ribbon, hint at greed and the acquisition of worldly possessions. A book is open to show a laughing Democritus. The page is inscribed with the words ‘Everyone is sick from birth / vanity is ruining the world’. A human skull reminds us of the inevitability of death. Suspended above the chest is a glass globe symbolising the fragility of human life.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten, 'A Vanitas,' detail. Copyright image Frances Spiegel with Permission from Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten, 'A Vanitas,' detail. Copyright image Frances Spiegel with Permission from Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved.

But Look Carefully at that Glass Sphere

As the Trust's conservators removed layers of discoloured varnish a distorted 3cm-high image of the artist appeared. Standing at his easel, Roestraten, who looks directly at the viewer, is shown in the surroundings of his studio.

Anna Reynolds, Senior Curator of Paintings at the Royal Collection Trust, was co-curator of Portrait of the Artist. At the time she said: 'Vanitas paintings traditionally focus on symbolic objects that are designed to make us think about how we live our lives. The discovery of Roestraten's reflection, previously hidden beneath a layer of varnish, is very exciting and adds a new element to the work – a sort of pictorial game that encourages us to look more closely.'

Information about the latest exhibitions at The Queen's Gallery are available from the Royal Collection Trust.

© 2016 Frances Spiegel

Comments

Frances Spiegel (author) from Wembley UK on November 09, 2016:

Thanks for reading this hub. Glad you enjoyed it.

Sakina Nasir from Kuwait on November 08, 2016:

Nice hub! ☺ I enjoyed reading it.

Related Articles