Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jan Jansz Treck

Jan Jansz Treck. Still life vanitas, 1648.

A bout of foul weather can unnerve even the most subdued urbanite. This week in Amsterdam the temperatures have been moderate but damp.

But there is sunshine ahead. The slick pavement and puddles bested me following an abnormally long week of reupholstering and then correcting footnotes for a draft of an essay I'm finishing. Yesterday morning I was rushing to a meeting with my son and an admissions officer from an American school he's applying to. Over my shoulder was a large bundle with a suit and freshly-pressed shirt inside that I had cleaned for the meeting. I was crossing the street towards my office when a German couple stopped me. They were looking to get to the Van Gogh Museum. Already late and irritated I considered ignoring them. "Can't you order a Starry Night mousepad from the internet?" I thought. I was instead polite and patient and helped them with directions. We parted. As I was stepping onto the curb a large van rolled by, kicking up a wave of rainwater, dirt and fine gravel. All of the closed were soaked. What I was wearing and carrying were in an awful state. With no time to lose I kept my stride. I called the gentleman from the university to warn him of my appearance. He was fortunately a reasonable man and expressed his condolence with an reassuring laugh.

How I ramble!

On the walk I was attempting to force myself into a better mood. I am often able to calm myself by meditating on a favorite painting (usually one of Claesz's breakfast pieces). In my frustration I found Jan Jansz Treck's vanitas lodged in my mind.

This painting is particularly wretched. It is stuffed with signifiers of death. Of course there is a skull. This one is wrapped with brittle thorns that have been clipped from their vine. The standard meta reference to the arts is here in the form of a flute. The hour glass has toppled. A play by Rodenburgh entitled "Evil is its Own Reward" lays open, propped against a box of pre-cooked bacon. The tax form has me gripping my temples, recalling the absurd adage of life's only certainties. How awful this painting is!

I was fortunate to have freed the afternoon so that I might share it with my son. And, sharp as he is to my bad humors, he was happy to change our plans so that we might walk the halls of the Rijkmuseum and rejoice in the paintings there. An afternoon with the old masters is enough to put me in good spirits for days.

1 comment:

Jan Peeters said...

I could scarcely pull myself away from my copy of TurboTax 1994 to comment here -- but let me leave you with my ex-wife's favorite quotation, courtesy Rembrandt van Rijn: "Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes."