I went to an art show today and it got me thinking about other art I’ve seen lately. This is one of my faves. It’s a still life from 1708, painted by a Scotsman called Thomas Warrender. I spotted it in Edinburgh’s National Gallery.
Or did he first move them about to create more pleasing symmetry?
Whatever, It’s a quodlibet.
Yes, I’d not heard that word either. It means ‘a random collection of objects which may or may not reveal a coherent symbolic meaning’ (according to Merriam-Webster). The Latin it comes from pretty much means ‘whatever’… which is very much a modern word.
It gives us clues about his life in the same way as our own noticeboards or desks do – whether actual desktops or computer screens. He was a member of the local painters and decorators guild so his picture shows a bunch of things an 18th-century businessman needed. I imagine he’d have had them on the wall above his desk within easy reach.
There are two quill pens, a pair of callipers for measuring stuff, a stick of red sealing wax and a seal, a comb for tidying his hair or wig, a picture of some worthy gentleman with a very big wig, two playing cards, a letter with Warrender’s name on the front, a folded ticket, a fob watch and some printed stuff including a booklet about ‘The Dangers of Popery’.
In the pre-photography age, 310 years ago, Thomas captured a hint of his daily routine and interests.
I look at what’s on my desk now.
Take away my laptop and printer and my ‘quodlibet’ has echoes of Thomas’s collection – I have pens, magazines, a ruler, envelopes, scribbled notes and a ribbon, though it holds a USB stick rather than a seal. And the only timepiece before me is at the top of my computer screen.
What’s on your desk today?
If you snapped a photo that could be saved in some archive, would someone who saw your workspace 310 years on know a bit about you?
That’ll be in the year 2328. Oh, too headache-making. Right now, I’m just glad this record of Mr Warrender’s bits and pieces has survived.