J.K. Rowling Tweets Mysterious Dutch Painting as Clue to Her Next Book

What do we know about Harmen Steenwyck's still life?

J.K. Rowling. Courtesy of Rob Stothard/Getty Images.

It was a big year for beloved author J.K. Rowling, with the release of two new projects set in the Harry Potter universe: the new prequel movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the sequel play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

You would think that would have been enough to keep anyone busy, but Rowling tweeted in December that she also has two books in the works, one that will be released under her own name, the other under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Now, she is teasing fans by posting a Dutch still life on Twitter as a clue to her new work.

“It’s hard to find a header that sums up everything I’m working on at the moment, but this painting comes close!” wrote Rowling, changing the cover photo on her account to Harmen Steenwyck‘s Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life (circa 1640).

Harmen Steenwyck, <em>Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life</em> (circa 1640). Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Harmen Steenwyck, Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life (circa 1640). Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

The painting, from the collection of the National Gallery in London, is a vanitas still life that was popular in Flanders and the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries. They typically feature skulls surrounded by personal possessions, and are meant symbolize how unimportant such earthly goods are given the inevitability of death.

In his vanitas, Steenwyck included books, musical instruments, a Japanese sword, and a seashell, objects that reference the pursuit of knowledge, pleasure, and wealth. The National Gallery’s website notes that these items are accompanied by a “chronometer and expiring lamp [which] allude to the transience and frailty of human life. All are dominated by the skull, the symbol of death.”

If art history is any indication, it would seem Rowling’s next literary project will offer a cautionary tale about the dangers of placing too much importance on money and power—a theme that could be quite timely, given our new President-elect’s love of all things opulent and golden.

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