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A Sleeping Woman (Vanitas)

A Sleeping Woman (Vanitas), 1544

Georg Pencz
German, c.1500-1550
Oil on canvas
37 x 69 in. (94.0 x 175.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

George Pencz worked in Albrecht Dürer’s atelier. Like his master, he visited Italy and was profoundly influenced by Venetian art. This painting was meant to be a collector’s cabinet piece or bedroom hanging. Pencz has drawn freely from the Venetian examples of Giorgione and his followers, and the painting’s main interest is undoubtedly erotic.

The exactitude and distinctness with which the body is rendered, however, is typically Northern. Equally Northern are the crisply defined still life elements in the niche, meant to embroider this secular subject with moral references and narrative potential. The seductive sleeping nude associated with moral failure, and the just-extinguished candle, indicative of time passing, suggest the theme of “vanitas.” Pencz has dated his painting on the wall at left and inscribed his initials on the candle snuffer in the niche.

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