A sprig of red-currants with insects,
Painting by Jan van Kessel I (1626-1679),
Painted in 1657,
Oil on copper
© Sotheby’s London, 3 December 2014, lot 36 (one of a pair), sold £542,000
Moths and woodworms destroy earthly treasures
Jesus said to his disciples: 'Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and woodworms destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworms destroy them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
'The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!'
Reflection on the Painting
Our painting on copper panel was painted in 1657 by Jan van Kessel. He is known for meticulously painting insects. A wide array of insects, all systematically placed and ordered, are carefully painted and seem to float on the surface, the effect achieved by the shadows painted underneath the insects. The juxtaposition of Van Kessel's animated painted insects with the redcurrants and two moths delights the viewer. There is a certain cheerfulness that emanates from these paintings. During the 17th century, there was among collectors a flourishing of cabinets of curiosities. These encyclopaedic collections of natural objects, insects, flowers, animals and stones, were regarded as a microcosm of the world: Nature and Creation summarised in a cabinet. A painting such as the painting today could have fronted a drawer of one of these cabinets of curiosities.
So Jesus mentions moths and woodworms in our reading today. Moths eat away at the most exquisite textiles; woodworms wind their way through the most beautiful of woods… Jesus uses these images to invite us to a perfect detachment from all things. Jesus warns us against storing up treasures on earth as they don't last and we can't take anything with us when we leave these earthly shores.
When John D. Rockefeller died, as one of the wealthiest men at the time, someone asked his accountant: 'How much money did John leave?' The accountant simply answered: 'He left ... all of it.'
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