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Library Interior with Still Life

Library Interior with Still Life, 1711-12

Jan van der Heyden
Dutch, 1637-1712
Oil on canvas
27 x 22-1/2 in. (68.6 x 57.2 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Near the end of his life, Jan van der Heyden depicted this subject three times with slight, but meaningful, variations. All of his libraries are similarly composed—furnished with a marble table, imported Chinese silk and Japanese ceramics, celestial and terrestrial globes, and, at center, an open atlas published by Jan Blaeu, one of the Dutch Republic’s leading globe and mapmakers. Unique to this version, a low-burning candle illuminates the sumptuous interior, inspiring deeper consideration of the relationship between the physical and metaphysical. Is the light a sign of an industrious reader who has foregone sleep? Is the flame a metaphor for enlightenment? Or is it a flickering memento mori soon to be extinguished?

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