Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 31

A curious truncation of Aegidius Sadeler’s Wisdom Conquers Ignorance
A curious truncation of Aegidius Sadeler’s Wisdom Conquers Ignorance
See William B. Jordan, Spanish Still Life in the Golden
Age 1600–1650, exh. cat. (Fort Worth: The Kimbell,
1985), pp. 214-218. Like Pereda’s Uffizi vanitas, this
picture also focuses on the Hapsburg dynasty: the
angel holds a miniature portrait of the emperor
Charles V. We are grateful to Mercedes González
Amezúa and Suzanne Boorsch for their helpful
comments on an earlier version of this essay.
2. The traditional attribution to Pereda has been
questioned by Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez, Pintura
Barroca en España (1600-1750) (Madrid: Cátedra,
1992), p. 246. He proposed an attribution to Francisco
de Palacios (ca. 1622/25 - before 1652) based
upon stylistic factors as well as his interpretation of
documents published by José Luis Barrio Moya, “El
pintor Francisco de Palacios. Algunas noticias sobre su
vida y su obra,” Boletin del Seminario de Estudios de Arte y
Arqueologia 53 (1987): p. 431.
3. The Uffizi painting is generally thought to be the
work described by Antonio Palomino as “the property
of Pereda’s heirs (Antonio Palomino, Lives of the
Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors, trans. Nina A.
Mallory [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1987], p. 206). See Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez, Antonio
de Pereda y la pintura madrileña de su tiempo (Madrid:
Ministerio de Cultura, 1978), no. 7; William B. Jordan
and Peter Cherry, Spanish Still Life from Velázquez to
Goya, exh. cat. (London: National Gallery, 1995), pp.
80, 84; and Ángel Aterido Fernández, “Mecenas y
fortuna del pintor Antonio de Pereda,” Archivo Español
de Arte y Arqueología 70 (1997): pp. 282-283.
4. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans.
Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton (Milwaukee: Bruce
Publishing, 1940), p. 4.
5. We are grateful to Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann for
identifying the subject of the portrait.
6. On this device, see John F. Moffitt, “Francisco
Pacheco and Jerome Nadal: New Light on the
Flemish Sources of the Spanish ‘Picture-within-thePicture’,” Art Bulletin 72 (1990): pp. 631-638.
7. Thanks to Paolo Brenni, Randall Brooks, Willem
Mörzer Bryns, David F. King, and Charles Miller who
identified this object for us. See Alan Stimson, The
Mariner’s Astrolabe – A Survey of Surviving Sea Astrolabes
(Utrecht: Hes Publishing, 1988).
8. On this symbol, see David M. Robinson, “The Wheel
of Fortune,” Classical Philology 41 (1946): pp. 207-216.
9. We are grateful to Philip Attwood for identifying
Leoni’s medal, which dates from 1548-1549; see
Attwood’s Italian Medals c. 1530–1600 in British Public
Collections, 2 vols. (London: British Museum Press,
2003), I, no. 22, pp. 99-100.
10. According to Alan Midleton, honorary curator of
the British Horological Institute, the watch probably
dates between 1640 and 1660, and certainly before
1671 because it has just a single hour hand and the
invention of the balance spring that year made the
addition of a minute hand practical and universal
(personal correspondence, 27 September 2016).
Although it is rendered as realistically as the other
still life components, the seemingly – whole fragment
is Pereda’s invention. This raises the question of his
intention in the anomalous treatment of this picturewithin-a-picture. It seems unlikely that Pereda was
simply trying to fill an otherwise vacant space on
his canvas, so there must be a more purposeful
explanation. If he found the triumphant Minerva
contrary to the glum moralizing theme of his painting,
then why replace the goddess with a soaring putto
holding a wreath? Or was this painting intended for a
sophisticated patron familiar with the prototype, who
might therefore find meaning or amusement in the
Another possible reading depends upon Pereda’s
virtuosity and suggests an appreciation for the wit
displayed in the conceits with which Sadeler modified
Spranger’s painting. In support of this thesis, we may
refer to an incident recorded by Palomino. When he
learned that his wife envied great ladies who kept a
duenna in their homes, Pereda painted “such a realistic
duenna…that many were fooled into bowing to her...
before they were undeceived.” Palomino adds that
once they acknowledged the trick, visitors remained
“amazed at the figure’s realism.”14 This anecdote
suggests that there could be an element of play in
Pereda’s rendering of Sadeler’s engraving. His unique
treatment of the print would presumably appeal to
sophisticated connoisseurs able to recognize and
appreciate Pereda’s subtle editing.
However, in keeping with the vanitas tradition and
because of the stern dictum highlighted by Clio, a
more serious interpretation of the tromp l’oeil print
seems most likely. Spranger’s original painting is
fundamentally a work of imperial propaganda,
celebrating the flourishing of the arts under the
protection of the Holy Roman Emperor.15 The text
Sadeler added to his rendition minimizes the imperial
overtones, shifting the image’s meaning to the aesthetic
realm where the arts depend upon the militant goddess
of wisdom to defeat Ignorance. By truncating the print
and highlighting the single phrase from Ecclesiasticus,
Pereda reasserts the original moral significance of the
text, which is extracted from a passage concerned with
the virtues and vices of men in power in which the
author decries pride as “hateful before God and men.”
He explains that pride is “the beginning of all sin”
because it begets greed, for “there is not a more wicked
thing than to love money” or lust for power for both
are ephemeral and vain: “all power is of short life…a
king is today, and tomorrow he shall die.”16 As the
remedy for pride and the evil it generates, the scribe
recommends modesty.
Ecclesiasticus was accepted into the Catholic canon
in 1546 during the fourth session of the Council of
Trent. The ideas expressed in it parallel attitudes
fundamental to vanitas paintings, which are designed
“to affirm the transitoriness and vanity of human
life.”17 The single phrase highlighted by Pereda in his
rendition of the print forms part of an exhortation to
humility: “They that are free shall serve a servant that
is wise: and a man that is prudent…will not murmur
when he is reproved; and he that is ignorant, shall not
be honoured.”18 With its prominent Last Judgment,
royal portraits, martial symbols, and allusions to the
brevity of life, Pereda’s Allegory of Vanity fulfills the
general goals of the genre while images of Charles
V and Philip II suggest a specific warning to princes
regarding the temptations they will face and the
consequences of succumbing to them. In this context,
the phrase from Ecclesiasticus serves as a recondite
clue to an especially appropriate text. It appears,
therefore, that Pereda’s purposeful abbreviation of the
print was part of a moralizing strategy that focuses
attention not on the truncated image per se, but on
the axiom aptly pointed to by Clio. Just as the angel
warns the viewer against worldly things that inspire
greed, provoke pride, and imperil the unwitting soul,
the muse of history reminds the powerful that humility
is the antidote to these temptations and the means to
avoid their dire consequences.
11. The similarity of the two vessels seems to suggest a
before-and-after scenario.
12. This and the following biblical quotations are from the
1899 Douay-Rheims Bible (https://www.biblegateway.
accessed 23 October 2016. Ecclesiasticus is also
known as the Book of Sirach.
13. Palomino, Lives, p. 207. The appearance of prints
in paintings is briefly discussed by Ilja M. Veldman,
“From Indulgence to Collector’s Item: Functions
of Printmaking in the Netherlands” in Images for the
Eye and Soul: Function and Meaning in Netherlandish Prints
(1450–1650)(Leiden: Primavera, 2006), pp. 40–42.
14. Palomino, Lives, p. 207. This “artist’s tale” recalls
the classical anecdote about the deceptive paintings
of Zeuxis and Parrhasios recounted by Pliny, Natural
History XXXV.65-66.
15. Sally Metzler, Bartholomeus Spranger: Splendor and
Eroticism in Imperial Prague. The Complete Works, exh. cat.
(New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014),
no. 67, pp. 138-141.
16. Ecclesiasticus 10:10-14.
17. Ingvar Bergström, Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth
Century (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956), p. 6.
18. Ecclesiasticus 10:28.


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