The Knight’s Dream
The soul can not think without a picture.
—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.
—Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life
The repertoire of objects in a vanitas still-life is confined to external power symbols: crowns—including the papal tiara and mitres, as well as kingly crowns—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 dream—the world and its vanity—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 skulls—one of them rolled over so that we can see inside—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.