Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638), Allegory on the Brevity of Life, 1617

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638),Allegory on the Brevity of Life, 1617. Oil on wood. 47 x 58.5 cm. KMSsp341
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A young couple, virtually naked, sit in a natural setting, almost like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Absorbed by vanity, they are lost in contemplating their own reflection in a mirror held up to them by a bearded man. The man is Father Time.

The arrow of Death
We see something the young couple do not. Behind them an arrow points directly towards them. The arrow of Cupid? No, of Death. Here Death has not been personified as a skeleton with all its bones picked clean; it is a far more uncanny apparition: a so-called “transi” – a half-rotted corpse.

The inevitability of death
In its own day the painting served to remind observers of the inevitability of death: it comes to us all, young and old, rich and poor, and this is intended to urge us to live in accordance with Christian virtues.

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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