No room for another post

Part one of Nothing


Cornelius Gijsbrechts (c. 1630 – c. 1683) Trompe l’oeil of a Letter Wall,
oil on canvas, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent. Image: WGA
Letter walls, or pin boards, were popular during the age of cabinets of curiosities. This Vanitas painting by a master of illusionism alludes to the pointlessness of writing, and ultimately of the painting itself, from the briefest letter to the most elaborately printed book, all of them posted here, along with the tools we use to scratch our individual marks on time.


Gijsbrechts was a Flemish artist who specialised in Vanitas, a deceptively bleak spiritual outlook dominant in northern European art of the seventeenth century about the worthlessness of all human endeavour. Accomplished still-life artists were able to earn a living through a genre which made rich Protestants feel better about their rampant materialism, so they could carry on buying stuff, and paying for art and literature, with a clear conscience.

It was also an enjoyable and sophisticated visual game, stuffed with intellectual allusions to flatter high-brow patrons, and, whenever artists deployed illusionist perspective, enough tricks of the eye to beguile everybody.


Gijsbrechts A Cabinet in the Artist’s Studio, 1670-71.
Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
One of the more conventionally cluttered of Gijsbrechts’ Vanitas paintings is still studio-bound, a painting about painting itself, and the painter, rather than morality; it is art for art’s sake, and a self-portrait.

At the same time as reflecting that they were justified by Faith alone, the patrons could show off all their acquisitions, the luxurious furnishings, the architectural garden features, the exotic flowers and fruit, a token rotting one, of course, their hunting trophies, and all their books, their pictures, their musical and scientific instruments, everything which makes life bearable and beautiful, none of which cannot save any of us, a point often rubbed in by a skull knocking about, to put the fear of God into you.

Baroque Yoricks proliferated like zombies and skeleton armies in the post-apocalyptic, internet-free visions of our own culture.


Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with Studio Wall and Vanitas Still Life, 1668.
Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
While deceiving us like a magician with the illusion we are looking at three-dimensional objects, the artist has taken the opportunity to do some very realistic self-advertizing by adding his address details to his name on the piece of paper tucked into the bottom of the frame.

All is vanity, including blogging, but occasionally we are dazzled into believing otherwise. During the course of picture research for this blog, I came across a website and art collection new to me, of the great national gallery of Denmark, proving that the journey is often more rewarding than the destination.

No visit, real or virtual, to SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, is in vain. Please go!

This journey into Nothing will be continued….


8 comments on “No room for another post

  1. Lelius says:

    I am sure I will enjoy them and I wait impatiently to meet this prince.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PJR says:

    My journey into nothing doesn’t look nearly as mystic and thrilling as Rimbaud’s – or Keats’ – it’s been interrupted by a 6’4″ German prince who most definitely believed in Something – but I hope you will enjoy some of the plundered images to come…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lelius says:

    “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas !”
    “All is vanity, including blogging, but occasionally we are dazzled into believing otherwise.”
    Oh yes ! Twice!

    Maybe the journey towards the nothing would be the only real journey. What more interesting crossing that the one which opens all the horizons? Je pense – avec un immense plaisir – au “Bâteau ivre” de Rimbaud?

    Thank you Pippa and continue to pilot our ship adrift!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. PJR says:

    historic, and painted, “acedie” is something I want to attempt to write about but it’s hard to distinguish between other forms of depression and apathy so I’m postponing the challenge….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting, Pippa. I used to have that all is in vain attitude. It was very depressing and I didn’t get anything done.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. PJR says:

    If you are disappointed by the SMK, I owe you a drink in London!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. beetleypete says:

    I know little about Denmark, never having visited that historic land. I know even less about any Danish artists, so I am rightly educated by this illuminating (and illuminated) post Pippa.
    The Trompe-l’oeil at the top is staggeringly good. I can only imagine the talent of someone who could create this. And I have been to Ghent, but didn’t visit that museum. Foolish man that I am.
    Best wishes as always, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beth says:

    It seems that a detour to Solvade needs to be added to the next foray across the pond. Thanks, Pippa, for writing these. I’d not known that this type of painting had a name or a philosophy behind it – it’s always satisfying to learn of these connections.

    Liked by 1 person

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