Following his probable training in Haarlem, where he came under the influence of Pieter Claesz., Collier is first documented as working in Leiden between 1667 and 1693. He subsequently developed a successful career in London.
The present painting is one of the earliest known works by Collier, and the format and size of the painting are also unique, suggesting that it may have been a specific commission or produced for a special occasion. The only other known paintings of a similar size are also early works, and there is a marked difference in the high quality of these paintings compared to many of the later works on a smaller format, some of which appear to have involved studio assistance. A painting by Collier of a similar composition, also signed and dated 1662, of horizontal format, is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. no. A3471). Only two other works by Collier are dated 1662, one of which was sold at Sotheby's, London, 17 December 1998, lot 39.
A significant portion of Collier's oeuvre is made up of so-called vanitas still-lifes, a genre at which he excelled. In the present picture the presence of a slip of paper tucked between the pages of a Bible is inscribed 'VANITAS VANITATUM ET OMNIA VANITAS' ('vanity of vanities, all is vanity' Ecclesiastes 1:2-3), removing any doubt as to the message the artist intended to convey. Every object in the composition has a symbolic content expressing the vanitas theme: although man strives for immortality, symbolised by the ivy, the delicate roemer alludes to the fragility of life and the casket of jewels reminds us that all the riches and wealth in the world will mean nothing on Judgement Day. The shawn (a type of flute) quietly functions as another symbol of life's transcience, as do the music sheets, the globe and the books, all reminders that earthly knowledge is passing.
Collier often used the same objects in his still-life compositions, many of which were presumably kept as studio props. It is possible that Collier kept sketches or even detailed drawings of these objects in order to re-use them, sometimes decades later, as models. None of these studies, however, are known to us today.
The music score in this work has been identified as a page from Jacob van Eyck's Der Fluyten Lust-hof ('The pleasure garden of flutes'), published in 1646 (see Grijp, op. cit., pp. 37-43), and is a variation on the melody Quasta dolce sirena by Gastoldi.