cover: Adriaen Brouwer, The Vanity (Superbia), one of the seven deadly sins, c.1634-1637

Second painting in a series of seven deadly sins

The Mauritshuis has acquired a painting by Flemish artist Adriaen Brouwer. The Vanity (Superbia), one of the seven deadly sins from c. 1634-1637, depicts a man curling his mustache with a pair of scissors. It is a rare representation of the Latin concept Superbia, meaning pride or vanity. The acquisition originally belonged to a series of seven panels, in which a rustic figure (a total of six men and one woman) represented one of the deadly sins. This was an innovative approach, as this theme had previously been depicted only by multiple figures in everyday life scenes. Brouwer’s series became scattered around 1800, and the whereabouts of five paintings are still unknown. The acquisition was made possible thanks to the support of the VriendenLoterij (Friends Lottery).

Backside_Adriaen Brouwer, The Vanity (Superbia), one of the seven deadly sins, c.1634-1637

Small painting featuring a ”vain” man

The panel shows a man with a red beret curling his mustache with a pair of scissors. The paint is thinly applied, and the background is left plain. The clothing is minimally detailed, with only a few touches of white paint on the collar and cufflinks. The man is looking into a mirror, capturing a snapshot of daily life. He is excessively concerned with his image, wanting to show how important he is. The Mauritshuis collection already housed a painting from Brouwer’s series since 1897, The Lust (Luxuria), one of the seven deadly sins. It portrays a somewhat disheveled man with his hand in a partially open doublet (padded vest), referencing sexual lust among other things. Both panels were examined by scientist Dr. Peter Klein, who discovered through dendrochronology that they were created around 1634-1637, near the end of Brouwer’s life, and thus belonged to the same series.

Series of seven panels

Brouwer’s series of seven deadly sins was first documented in 1663 in the inventory of Maria Anna van der Goes in Antwerp. The original series by Brouwer was part of this collection, along with a set of copies of the seven scenes by Flemish painter Joos van Craesbeeck (1606-c.1660). These copies were auctioned in 1902 and show how the five other paintings by Brouwer appeared. Brouwer specialist Karolien de Clippel published Van Craesbeeck’s copies of Brouwer’s work in her monograph, also discussing the original meaning of the series. The current whereabouts of the other five paintings by Brouwer are unknown.

Left: Adriaen Brouwer, The Lust (Luxuria), one of the seven deadly sins, c.1634-1637 | Right: Backside. Adriaen Brouwer, The Lust (Luxuria), one of the seven deadly sins, c.1634-1637

Coat of arms

Identical coat of arms with consecutive numbers in the same handwriting, 114 and 115, were found on the back of both panels at the Mauritshuis. Research conducted by Olivier Mertens, a specialist in heraldry, revealed that these seals with coats of arms from Spanish regions (Castile, León, Aragon, and Sicily) and Austria belonged to Don Juan José of Austria (1629-1679), an illegitimate son of the Spanish king Philip IV. Thus, Brouwer’s series traveled from Antwerp to foreign countries in the 17th century, and later became scattered around 1800.

Adriaen Brouwer

Adriaen Brouwer worked in Haarlem and Amsterdam before settling in Antwerp. He died at the age of 32. Brouwer’s work was admired by colleagues such as Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens, who collected his paintings. Today, Brouwer’s work, of which approximately 65 paintings are known, is relatively rare. He primarily depicted peasant life, often featuring fighting or drinking peasants in or near Flemish taverns. Later in his career, Brouwer combined various genres, merging cheerful gatherings with portrait painting and landscapes. The painting “The Smokers” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a perfect example, featuring a self-portrait of Brouwer alongside several other artists, including Jan Lievens, Jan Davidsz de Heem, and the aforementioned Joos van Craesbeeck.