J.K. Rowling and the Mysterious Twitter Header


How is Harmen Steenwyck’s Vanitas Still Life painting inspiring J.K. Rowling? The Harry Potter author confounds her fans again!

In 1640 a man named Harmen Steenwyck painted Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life. In the early days of 2017, J.K. Rowling, one of the most recognizable authors in the world tweeted that the painting “sums up everything I am working on at the moment”. What could Steenwyck’s work, essentially a cautionary tale of the seductive pleasures of wealth and earthly possessions, have to offer Rowling?

This vanitas painting is one of many that refer to the Christian view of all earthly possessions as negative distractions. The rich who possessed a conscience about the wealth they had accumulated purchased these paintings. There is an inherent contradiction in owning a rare, expensive painting whose purpose is to warn against accumulating similar items.

Is Comoran Strike is going to be faced with a case where the moral hypocrisy of the British upper class comes into question, prompted by the theft of a priceless portrait? Or maybe it is the microcosmic local election of The Casual Vacancy that will be revisited. Perhaps Rowling is dipping a toe into the magical wizarding world again. It really is time to delve into the plutocratic ways of the Ministry of Magic. Maybe the reliably heroic Harry Potter will come to face his greatest nemesis yet, political ambivalence.

The skull in the painting certainly draws the eye in, a hint to the rather morbid fate that awaits some unfortunate character. Yet Rowling herself has never written death as anything to be afraid of. “After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure,” Dumbledore says.

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With all the tantalizing things in the world represented by the painting, from books as the entire scope of human knowledge to highly polished shells as treasured possessions, it is impossible not to sink into vanity a little bit. Maybe Rowling knows something we don’t. Hopefully she’ll write about it in her next book.