Edwaert Collier, Vanitas still life with a jewellery box, skull on a reversed crown, a globe, and a lute


(Breda, active before 1663 – London or Leiden 1708)

Vanitas still life with a jewellery box, skull, a globe, and a lute

Oil on panel, 88.5 x 112,5 cm

Lower left: E Collier


The artist signed his Dutch works “Edwaert Colyer” but later anglicized his name to Edward Collier. He joined St. Luke’s Guild in Leiden in 1673, at which time he was also a member of the guild in Haarlem. Edward Collier’s substantial body of works consists of three types of still life, a small number of genre paintings and portraits, and an occasional history scene. The artist’s still lifes refer mostly to the inevitability of death and temporality (vanitas). Occurring less frequently are “traditional” still lifes with smoking utensils or foodstuff. Thirdly Collier was devoted to compositions with letter racks and of prints displayed on wooden boards, using the technique of creating the illusion of three-dimensionality (trompe l’oeil). Many of Collier’s vanitas and trompe l’oeil paintings include English texts and objects and were probably painted for the English market. Among the public collections that hold paintings by Edwaert Collier are the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Holland; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Holland; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, USA; the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan; the Tate Gallery, London, England and the Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Finland.

This teeming composition shows numerous items arranged on a gold embroidered cloth, including a human skull, a clock, precious jewellery, and a crown. An inscription on a banderole in the lower left reiterates the obvious message of the work: “VANITAS VANITATUM ET OMNIA VANITAS”. This quotation, drawn from the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes 1:2), refers to the transitory nature of all earthly things. Edwaert Collier illustrates this theme in a rich allegory, culminating in a human skull in a laurel wreath, which leaves no doubt as to the finality of human life.

This kind of still life serves not only to illustrate the vanitas motif; it also provides artists with an opportunity to test their skills in developing complex compositions and capturing a multitude of textures and surfaces. Collier achieves this brilliantly in the present work. It is an excellent example of his opulent vanitas still lifes, which enjoyed great popularity, along with his trompe l’œils. The artist was active in Leiden from 1667 to 1693, after which he probably moved to London. Aside from a temporary return to Leiden, he remained in the English capital until his death. The present work is registered with the RKD in The Hague under the no. 111479 as an original work of Collier. Two comparable works of a similar size are housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (102.5 x 132 cm, inv. no. A 3471) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (94 x 112 cm, inv. no. 71.19), both dated 1662.

Condition report:

The painting is in good overall condition.


The Hoogsteder Collection, Amsterdam 1968;

Private collection, Rhineland;

Important private collection, Zürich, Switzerland


Arnheim Kunstmuseum 1968. – Wallraf-Richartz Museum Fondation Corbout, Cologne, on loan.

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