Westermann Reflection # 2

Vanitas Still Life by Peter Claesz

I chose this image because I remembered it from an art class I took last semester. We only briefly discussed it, but I remember being struck by the imagery of the various objects. In that class, we focused on the skull as a memento mori, a symbolic reminder of death’s inevitability. In this framework, we saw the clock as a reminder of the passing of time as well. The painting as a whole served to weaken human vanity and remind us of our mortality. Westermann, however, while he agrees that this interpretation is possible, also takes a different approach, arguing that the watch could be a symbol of paint’s ability to extend the painter’s impact and legacy long after death. He also mentions that “Claesz destabilized the vanitas theme by including his portrait, the genre of painting most obviously intended to immortalize people in paint. So while the painting is a reminder of our own mortality, it also serves to immortalize the painter himself, establishing themes that are somewhat contradictory and lead to a far more complex piece of art. I had not considered this interpretation previously, and I find it very interesting.

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3 thoughts on “Westermann Reflection # 2

  1. Well said, I believe I was in either the same or a similar art class as well. It always amazes me how an image of random items can collectively mean something, at times more than words. The concept of morality Has always been one that people cannot fathom easily. Everyone has heard the saying “They say you die twice, Once when you actually die, and the other is when somebody last says your name.” A concept you elaborate on very well.

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  2. This is such a cool analysis of this painting, and provides a lens I might not have looked through if I had not read this. The idea of inevitability of death strikes me though this painting and your analysis, and now I continue to look through this painting hoping to reveal more details paralleling your thoughts. I keep looking at the fallen glass to the right, it sits with me for some odd reason. I definitely think it could symbolize something greater, and would love to look into this more. I think you were spot on with your analysis — the idea that this immortalizes the painter is super important and quite ironic. Great work!

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  3. Nice to build on your prior knowledge. So, what do you think about W’s claim–do you see the painter making such an inside joke? Is it something a viewer at the time might have seen? Where does this meaning lie? (Also: what might Blakely have to say about this?)

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