Moments in Time

A descriptive analysis of Pieter Claesz art piece “Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball”

Serene Barnette
3 min readJun 25, 2021
“Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball” (1628) Pieter Claesz

The present is something everyone seems to neglect as time seems to run away, seemingly losing track of what is right before us. But a specific artist has been able to give us what we have selfishly lost for a brief moment in time. This artist, Pieter Claesz has brought forth the very thing that we solely need in life, which can be depicted in his oil-based painting “Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball” (1628). In this painting, he captivates what it means to accept and forgive our fleeting moments and provides a space to happily enjoy what it means to be in the now.

Pieter Claesz was a Dutch still-life painter in the 17th century who conducted shifting focuses ranging from breakfast setting to multiple alluring objects with varying textures and dimensional light all while having a monochromatic color palette. In this particular painting “Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball” (1628) the viewer sees a multitude of objects such as a violin, a pocket watch, an empty turned-over glass cup, a glass ball, and hauntingly a human skull. No doubt Claesz does a skillfully beautiful job executing these items in their arrangements. By analyzing these objects one by one we can convey Claesz’s intention of the piece.

To start we immediately divert our attention to the violin in the center of the piece, no doubt this is Claesz’s way of incorporating his love for music in his artwork considering he was a musician himself. Just like incorporating musical instruments in his other paintings, we see another common object, the human skull. Claesz constantly reminds us of our mortality, which is ironic because his still lifes are seemingly living on forever in a frame. But of course, our living bodies do not have such functions, we all know we will expire one day, and yet why does Claesz insist on reminding us of our demise? Rather than focus on our obvious outcome Claesz is actually reminding us to focus on what’s right in front of us. He’s isn’t simply preaching we are all going to decay, he’s emphasizing that because we are, we should shift our focus from the inevitable.

He reinforces this idea by projecting himself in the reflection of the glass ball left to the violin. By just reflecting on his image he is forced to look at himself in his current state, and as the viewer we find ourselves doing the same. For a brief moment, the viewer can feel that they can live on in the present moment in acceptance of our slippery hold on time. Thus when the viewer is faced with the pocket watch on the table of the painting, a sensation of irrelevance washes over the onlooker, completely forgoing their relationship with time itself.

Pieter Claesz successfully introduced us to what it means to live in blissful acknowledgment of our mortality. His painting has completely turned our view upside down on what it means to live on regarding our unpleasant relationship with death. By doing so, viewers alike, many of different backgrounds can agree and witness for themselves their commonality of life and death. This message allows us to disregard the constructs that divide us today by connecting us on a far greater scale. It’s a beautiful universal truth that vividly connects us with the natural laws we abide by, it is simply the essence of our being to be encompassed in the moment.



Serene Barnette

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