Craesbeeck, Joos van (c.1605-61; Flemish)
Death and an Old Woman (c.1655)
Oil on wood panel, 37.3 x 33.6 cm
Purchased, 1874
National Gallery of Victoria (p.304.7-1)

When it was purchased, this small panel was attributed to the Dutch Golden Age artist Cornelis Bega (c.1631-64). This opinion persisted until 1961, when Ursula Hoff, objecting that the picture bore no real similarity to Bega’s work, catalogued it as “Dutch School, 18th-century?” This view remained in place in Hoff’s subsequent NGV catalogues.

However, more recent scholarly opinion has led the NGV to assign the work to Craesbeeck, a Flemish genre painter close to Adrian Brouwer (1605-38).

As with many moralizing images of this type, the imagery may be read in several ways. The woman – surrounded by cards, money, a crucifix, a coffin, and so on – is apparently about to be claimed by a jaunty Death, wielding a large arrow. According to the NGV, the inscription behind the woman’s head reads, in translation, “No bird, flesh or fish has ever dodged it; they don’t miss shooting.”

Or is this a premonitory dream? The woman’s pose is comparable with that of the young woman in Jan Vermeer’s contemporary canvas known as A Girl Asleep (c.1657), in which dreaming or day-dreaming (in Vermeer’s work, of an erotic kind) is implied. Relevant here is the large painting (or window?) to the upper left, showing another skeleton hovering above a coffin, above another inscription translated by the NGV as follows: “My body is/has been preserved; I know not where my soul dwells.”


AR 1874, p.35 (as by Bega; quoted above); NGV 1875, p.23 (as “Death and the Fortune Teller,” attributed to Cornelius {sic} Bega); NGV 1894, IV.78 (same details; on loan to Bendigo); NGV 1905, IX.1 (same details; on loan to a Victorian country gallery) [£50] 

For this work, see Hoff (1995), p.91: as Dutch, 18th century (Death and the Fortune-Teller), with further references, including Hoff’s 1961 NGV catalogue. The translations of the inscriptions, and the interpretation of the image at upper left as a view through a window, appear in the caption accompanying the work in NGV International, 2019

For Craesbeeck, see Bénézit 4, pp.138-39; AKL 22 (1999), pp.133-34; and (with references); the NGV describes him as Brouwer’s only documented pupil

For A Girl Asleep, see e.g. Walter Liedtke & others, Vermeer and the Delft School (, New York: Metropolitan Museum, 2001, pp.369-71. The NGV owns a number of Bega’s etchings, acquired in 1933: see