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ID number:  BIRRC-A0266
Institution:  Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection:  Campus Collection of Fine and Decorative Art
Artist / Maker:  attributed to Cornelius, Saftleven (1607-1681)
Title / Object name:  The Ages of Man
Object type:  Painting
Materials:  Oil on panel
Measurements:  44.4 x 58.4 cm
BIRRC-A0266(1).jpg

This painting represents the artist’s conception of the human life cycle from infancy to old age, and death. To the left, he depicts the joys of youth as a young boy plays with a hoop, followed by the proud and upright mature male, and at the end of his days, a bearded old stooped man gazes down at the corpse below him, contemplating his impending fate. The scenery is kept to a bare minimum, with lofty, weightless clouds floating through a purple sky. Two angels are shown guarding the gateway to the afterlife. Death was never far away in the seventeenth century and as a consequence mortality was a common theme in art of the time. Transcending the momento mori, this image makes the aging process and the physical erosion of the body visible to the viewer. Such depictions of the passage of time were among of the key artistic innovations of the Dutch Golden Age. Despite improvements in medicine and increased quality of life since the Middle Ages, life expectancy in Holland was around fifty years. Thus, Saftleven has been generous with the life span represented here. Cornelis Saftleven came from a family of Rotterdam artists, his father and two brothers also painted. Among his earliest works are portraits and peasant interiors influenced by Adriaen Brouwer. By 1634 Cornelis was in Utrecht, where his brother Herman Saftleven the Younger was living, and the two began painting stable interiors, a new subject in peasant genre painting. By 1637 Cornelis had settled in Rotterdam, where he became dean of the guild of Saint Luke in 1667. His subject matter was varied, from rural genre scenes to portraits, beach scenes, and biblical and mythological themes. His images of Hell may be his most individual contribution to Dutch painting. Equally innovative were his satires and allegories. Saftleven excelled at painting animals, portraying them as active characters, occasionally with an added allegorical role. About two hundred of his oil paintings and five hundred drawings survive.

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