Unidentified Flemish artist active in Prague circa 1600
An Allegory of Fortune
Oil on canvas : 137,2 X 97,8 cm
Frame : 179,7 X 139,4 cm
A beautiful female nude figure representing Fortuna, the Allegory of Fortune, stands at the middle of a complex composition. At her feet is written in Latin “ne cedas: arduum parare”, meaning “do not give up, prepare for a steep, difficult road”.
This is a Vanitas painting, referring to the ephemeral, fragile character of life, to the choices that one can and must make. The left side of the painting shows prosperity and maritime trade. But the small putto is blowing soap bells where one can read “denique” and “nihil”, meaning “at the end there is nothing”: life is but a soap bell ready to burst. The cherub’s feet rest on crowns, golden coins, flowers that can fade and a trumpet, of which the sound easily gets lost. The cockerel shows this is the bright, dayside.
The opposite bird, an owl, introduces the dark, negative side of life. A dark youth with serpents points to a horrible vision of war, fighting soldiers, burning houses, a ship firing its canons. Nature crowns this haunting nightside with lightning, while the dayside receives a golden shower.
Like the famous Birth of Venus painted by Sandro Botticelli Fortune balances on a shell, her long blond hair and a scarf firmly blown to the positive side of the composition.
The choice of the subject of our painting is typical of the erudite court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II in Prague in Central Europe. In a typical Late Mannerist manner our painter has enriched a traditional Italian 16th century Renaissance subject with many symbolic elements.