“Superbia” or “Vanity”, c.1635
The Mauritshuis has acquired a unique painting by the Flemish artist Adriaen Brouwer (c.1605 – 1638). It is a rare representation of the Latin concept of “Superbia“, which means pride or vanity. Superbia depicts a man curling his moustache with a pair of scissors. The acquisition originally belonged to a series of seven panels, representing the seven deadly sins. The series got scattered around 1800, and the whereabouts of five paintings are still unknown. The painting known as “Luxuria”, which means lust, is also part of the Mauritshuis collection, since 1897.
The small panel (23x16cm) depicts a man with a red beret curling his moustache using a pair of scissors. The paint application is thin, and the background is left smooth and even. The clothing is minimally detailed, with only a few white paint strokes here and there on the collar and cufflinks. The man is shown looking into a mirror, like a snapshot from everyday life. He seems particularly preoccupied with his image, seeking to demonstrate his importance.
Adriaen Brouwer worked in Haarlem and Amsterdam before permanently settling in Antwerp. He died at the age of 32. Brouwer’s work was highly regarded by his colleagues, including Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens, who collected paintings by his hand. Today, the work of Brouwer, of whom about 65 paintings are known, is relatively rare. He primarily depicted peasant life, often featuring fighting or drinking peasants in or near taverns. Later in his career, Brouwer began to combine various genres. For instance, he sometimes merged lively gatherings with portraiture and landscape painting. The painting The Smokers at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a perfect example of this. The artwork features a self-portrait of Brouwer alongside several artists, including Jan Lievens and Jan Davidsz de Heem. In this famous picture, Brouwer himself (center foreground) plays one of his typical revelers, seemingly surprised by the viewer’s intrusion on the scene.
Coat of arms
On the back of both panels at the Mauritshuis, identical coats of arms were discovered, with consecutive numbers in the same handwriting: 114 and 115. Research conducted by Olivier Mertens, a specialist in heraldry, revealed that these seals with coats of arms are from Spanish regions (such as Castile, León, Aragon, and Sicily) and Austria. This specific coat of arms belonged to Don Juan José van Oostenrijk (1629 – 1679), an illegitimate son of the Spanish King Philip IV. This indicates that the series by Brouwer traveled from Antwerp to foreign countries as early as the 17th century, and then became dispersed around 1800.