Gerrit Dou was Rembrandt van Rijn’s first student, training with him in Leiden while in his teens, and for a significant period he eclipsed his master’s reputation. Rich with coded narratives, his extraordinarily detailed paintings were prized throughout Europe by the wealthiest royal and aristocratic collectors. The figure examining the bottle of liquid in this painting is believed to be a self-portrait, and is identified as a piskijker– a medical practitioner skilled at studying urine, here for a pregnancy test. Symbols of his skill and learning are prominent, including a celestial globe and carefully positioned anatomy textbook. The skeleton on the open page leaning like a gravedigger on his spade is the ultimate symbol of vanitas – a reminder of the fragile brevity of a human life. At the same time it looks with anticipation to a child to come.
(Persistent Encounters, March 2020)