Trompe l’oeil painting became particularly popular throughout Europe during the seventeenth century. In the Netherlands, the genre saw its development from the established still life tradition of the region. The artist and theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten in 1678 wrote in his Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Academy of Painting) about the role of art as a lifelike imitation of art, a practice Hoogstraten frequently translated into his own work in the many trompe l’oeil subjects he painted. The present work, depicting an array of rich decorative objects, Classical antiquities and luxury textiles, was probably originally designed as part of a larger decorative scheme adorning the walls of a study or dining room. Such schemes had existed since at least the Renaissance (like the famed studiolo of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino made between 1473 and 1475) and continued to be popular in the decoration of large houses and palaces. The carefully worked perspective of the present trompe l’oeil suggests the work was originally displayed flat, possibly as a single monumental canvas. It is likely that it was removed from its original setting later in its history and divided into five sections serve as a decorative screen.
Of the objects spread across the canvases, many represent those typically used for their symbolic connotations in still life painting. The array of gilt metalwork, richly embroidered carpets and Antique treasures, following in the tradition of the pronkstilleven, were traditionally seen as vanitas symbols, conveying a moral lesson that referred to life’s transience – symbolised also by the broken strings of the lute – and the emptiness of wealth and earthly possessions. The idea of transience is emphasised in the present scheme through the inclusion of the large gold clock, which served as a reminder to viewer to practice moderation and temperance.