The story behind Allegory of Human Vanity
You either love it, or you hate it. Ger Lataster’s ceiling paintings above the Mauritshuis staircase provoke strong reactions among our visitors. Hardly surprising: modern art is possibly the last thing you’d expect to see at the Mauritshuis.
Before 1987, the ceiling was blank. As far as we know it had never been painted. During the renovation of the Mauritshuis in the 1980s, three contemporary artists were asked to come up with a design. Ger Lataster’s design was chosen – he opted for a composition filled with colour.
It may not be immediately obvious, but the painting shows a tale from Greek mythology: the Fall of Icarus. Icarus and his father Daedalus are imprisoned on an island, from which they manage to escape with wings made from feathers secured with beeswax. But Icarus becomes reckless and flies too close to the sun. The wax melts and he falls into the sea. The story lives on today in the expression: ‘Pride comes before a fall’.
Surrounded by such great masters as Rembrandt and Vermeer, Lataster also felt pride lurking. As a warning to himself he included his own spectacles in the design.