This large vanitas picture, a work of great refinement, would have offered an intellectual game for the cultivated male patrons of its day. The painting is an invitation to a beholder’s eye and mind to work together in deciphering its concealed meaning. One key to the subject could be as follows: the three tables each represent a phase in the life of a gentleman.
The table covered with a red damask cloth and laden with fresh fruit, a jug brimming with water, and the budding flowers is a hymn to life, representing the comforts and freshness of youth. Yet we also see a sign of passing time: a watch with a compass to point towards the path to be followed.
The second tabletop representsthe maturityof an adult gentleman. The solid wood surfacebears everyday objects: game, a pipe, playing cards, and a very fine pistol. Here we find a second symbol of time that moves on: a lit fuse, which will swiftly and inexorably consume itself.
The third surface is made of stone: a true memento mori that refers to a tombstones. Lying lifeless upon it, birds, a shrivelled orange, some rotten walnuts, and a violinresting on its own bow, a perfect example of passing. The whole composition is shrouded in an intense silence, inviting us to meditate.