Where the grass grows tall is where I lie

Pondering things laid ahead

I am supine and drunk on Rye,

Don’t think I made my bed

Though the marsh’s sweaty fields supreme,

I felt but never knew it

And all the days blend in like dreams

You’ll rid the world of nuisance

So cock the barrel back once more,

I know that you will pull it

Cause in the end I’m just a whore

and you adorn the pulpit

Dutch Baroque painter Judith Leyster created this dynamic 35-by-28-inch composition entitled “The Last Drop” in 1609, using oil on canvas, the prevalent artists’ medium of the era. The painting is striking in its apparent simplicity, but a deeper look reveals to viewers the visual complexities beneath the surface, which give way to an intricate underlying theme. Leyster ultimately uses her piece as a vehicle to warn viewers against a life of indulgence and sin, specifically through visual juxtaposition, illusionistic realism, deliberate body language, and color.

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The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) by Judith Leyster

The first thing a viewer notices about this piece is the stark contrast between the lit cavalier and his silhouetted companion, as well as between the burning candle and the dark hourglass. The figure to the right is the “gay cavalier,” exemplified by the illumination of his face and body. The light reveals the color and texture of his garb, as well as the details of his jovial countenance. In this sense, the cavalier’s personality is revealed to a greater extent than his companion. He is the classic image of a 17th-century man given over to the vices of society — drinking in excess, smoking, and indulging in playful behavior. His companion, on the other hand, sits in obscurity, shielded from viewers’ eyes by an expanse of darkness. His character and personality, unlike his counterpart’s, is not revealed to a great extent. He takes part in the same revelry as the cavalier, yet the darkness which cloaks him ultimately makes his activities seem less inconsequential, less playful. He is the embodiment of the “dark side” of indulgence; the visual juxtaposition of the companion against the cavalier demonstrates both the blissful exterior of a carefree approach to life as well as its less charming results. The other major contrast that Leyster sets up in this piece is the shadowed hourglass versus the lit candle. One interpretation of this compositional choice is that the skeleton (death), brought the light to illuminate the hourglass so that the figure on the left can see that his time is running low. The fact that the hourglass is dimmed speaks to the idea that it has been shoved as far as possible into the figure’s view, yet he still chooses to ignore it. Death has attempted so vigorously to convey its warning that it has unintentionally obscured its own message from ever being seen. The candle serves as a further reminder of the companion’s deep-rooted aversion to facing his fate. Light is knowledge, and since it is impossible to ignore something so all-encompassing as light, the companion’s apparent ignorance of the light’s presence proves that he is resistant to the truth that he is being confronted with. Still, the significance of the lit candle versus the dark hourglass remains ambiguous. Does the dim hourglass show the extent of death’s effort to relay his message, or does it signify that the figure’s time is already up? Is the light, in the form of a candle, a benevolent or a deceitful gesture? Ultimately, however, Leyster’s visual juxtaposition of light and dark serves as a storytelling technique, which leads readers to the true message behind the piece: a dark and imminent warning. …

Oh the messes we made

The troubles it caused

In the end I’m your slave

Held down by your awe

Head fixed on your binds

I go out to the fields

Clouded cotton-ball minds;

The work barely yields

But two too young lovers

Dripping passion, I bet

But behind clouded minds

Is that hint of regret

So part ways we must

I’ll wait it out till when

For in the end it’s just lust

And we’ll find it again


Tatiana Vorontsova

Writer, Artist, Poet, Dummy

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