"A Learned Man in His Workroom" by Philips Koninck

The following text is a description of the painting by Róża Książek-Czerwińska from the JU Museum.
The tactile graphics have been made by Lech Kolasiński, a painting artist. Thanks to the graphic adaptations blind and partially sighted persons are able to become familiar with the exhibit through touch.

Philips Koninck (1619 1688), A Learned Man in His Workroom: a Portrait of Joost van den Vondel

tempera and oil on oak-wood board,
71.5 x 53.5 cm.

The paintings shows an old man, sitting at a desk stooped. He is wearing a black coat with a fur collar, a white cap on his head. Shown down to his waist, he represents the key aspect of the image. He is shown from the right profile. In the background, a fragment of a window is visible in the left upper corner. In the right bottom corner, in the foreground, there is a human skull, on which lies the man’s right hand. A round monocle is next to it, behind it an extinguished oil lamp and an hourglass with all sand trickled down. Just next to the hourglass stands a huge old volume with worn pages. Above it, on a shelf, a bunch of keys is hanging on a hook, and next to it a vase with fading flowers stands in a small niche.
The stooping poet Joost van den Vondel is sitting at the desk, sunk in thought. His eyes closed, his head propped on the left hand, the right one lying next to the skull. The poet and the human skull represent the key aspect of the composition taking up nearly three quarters of the painting, divided into two triangular parts: a darker bottom section and a lighter upper one where light plays the key part.
The workroom interior is steeped in darkness, the only visible elements being a desk where the lamp, hourglass, monocle and skull are as well as a shelf with the huge worn volume, above which the bunch of keys is hanging, next to it the vase with flowers standing in the niche. Pale dawn is peering into the room through the small window in the left upper corner of the painting.
The poet is wearing a black coat with a fox-fur collar. On his head is a white nightcap with lace finish. His face is shown in profile, a face of an old, wise, life-weary man of regular and beautiful features oozing gentleness. Judging by his hand, he does not work physically. He is a thinker and an artist. The objects lying on the desk have a symbolic meaning: the skull means the futility and transience of human life in this world, the hourglass means the passage of time, the extinguished lamp – the end of existence, the keys – the path leading  to the truth and knowledge, the flowers mean the volatility of earthly beauty and life, while the worn-out volume is a book of life, already closing. The inscription SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI under the bunch of keys completes the painting’s message.
On the poet’s face, his cap-covered head, hands and the fox-fur coat collar as well as the symbolic accessories around him falls strong bright light, its source outside the painting. It is not the dawn peering through the window. Maybe it is a light from another better world.
The portrait of Joost von Vondel is a small painting (71.5 x 53.5 cm). The figure of the sitting poet is limited by the desktop. Even his stooped back was not painted in its entirety – it is cut off by the painting’s edge. The painter presents only the aspects  he found most important in the sitter, thus ensuring the painting’s unique power. It is a portrait one can look at for a very long time experiencing it just like a live human.
The colour features of the painting are very characteristic of the period in which Philips Koninck was active. The impact of Rembrandt van Rijn who befriended him is clear. Brown, black, sepia, beige and white hues dominate. The diagonal composition coupled with the strongly contrasting chiaroscuro lends dynamics to the painting and makes the portrayed man seem to lean from the painting towards the beholder.

 Orginal photo

Adaptation photo