The Knight’s Dream
The soul can not think without a picture.
â€”Aristotle, On the Soul, III
The soul is always searching for itself, and it takes great pleasure when it finds itself mirrored in the material world.
â€”Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life
The repertoire of objects in a vanitas still-life is confined to external power symbols: crownsâ€”including the papal tiara and mitres, as well as kingly crownsâ€”and a knight’s armour were always part of such still-lifes, as was the globe as a symbol of worldwide expansion and a craving for conquests. These “elements of vanity” are of central importance in this painting by Pereda.
A young nobleman has fallen asleep in an armchair on the left, his head, pale with sleep, supported by one hand. The content of his dreamâ€”the world and its vanityâ€”is displayed on the table on the right, against a pitch-black background. Other objects of vanity, apart from the power insignia mentioned above, are books, music, coins, jewellery, weapons and a mask (as a symbol of Thalia – the theatre). These are all considered futile. Transience is symbolized by two skullsâ€”one of them rolled over so that we can see insideâ€”as well as by a burnt candle and a clock. The flowers in the vase, too, are symbols of vanity. A winged angelic creature has come flying to the scene, opening up a banner which reads ‘Aeterne pungit, cito volat et occidit.