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Painting Title A Memento Mori
Collection York Art Gallery
Artist Attributed to Heem, Jan Davidsz. de (Dutch painter, born 1606, died 1683 or 1684)
Date Earliest probably about 1630
Date Latest probably about 1639
Description A niche in the stone wall contains objects including a skull, a bone, a winged hourglass, roses, paper, glasses, a pipe and a compass. This is a 'vanitas' painting, a type of symbolic work of art. It refers to Ecclesiastes 1.2, 'Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas' (vanity, vanity, all is vanity), which emphasises the transient nature of all earthly goods and earthly life. Vanitas motifs were very popular in still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, considered as carrying a valuable moral message. Likewise 'Memento Mori' means 'remember death': all the depicted object have relevant symbolic meaning, e.g. a skull symbolises death, flowers symbolise the shortness of life and the hourglass refers to the passing of time. The work is not very usual for de Heem, as he more often painted flower and opulent still lifes. But a similar Vanitas Still Life by de Heem, also containing a skull and pink roses, is in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm (NM 6842), and is dated about 1630.
Current Accession Number YORAG : 2005.1
Subject still life
Measurements 12.5 x 18 cm (estimate)
Material oil on panel
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Sir James Colyer-Fergusson, through the National Art Collections Fund 2005.
Publications Oil Paintings in Public Ownership. North Yorkshire, London, 2006, p. 290.
Notes Sir James Colyer-Fergusson was born in 1917 as the only child of Max Christian Hamilton Colyer-Fergusson and Edith Jane, née White Miller. After II World War he was a Passenger Officer to the South East Division of British Rail's Southern Region, and later Parliamentary and Public Correspondent to the British Rail Board. His inheritance of family estates (he became 4th and last baronet) allowed him to establish a charitable trust in 1969. He died on the 9th January 2004.
Rights Owner York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Author Dr Magdalena Łanuszka



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