The Knight's Dream is one of the most outstanding works of the Spanish painter Antonio Pereda. Executed with mastery and precision, the work represents an allegory of the vanitas, a genre that acquired great fame during the Golden Age in Spain; vanitas was a subgenre within the still life in which the realism of the compositions was mixed with a strong allegorical component so that through the multiple objects that were represented on the canvas, the author called attention to the viewers reminding them that material goods are only temporary. In this context, vanitas seems to be a recurring font not only for the baroque era, but could well be applied to the current era.
Antonio Pereda (1611 – 1678) is one of the most outstanding artistic personalities of the 17th century. Son of a second-rate painter Pereda was orphaned at the early age of eleven, so he moved with his uncle to Madrid and entered the workshop of Pedro de las Cuevas. Fortune smiled on the artist as he was the protégé of some renowned noblemen, a fact that allowed him to discover some canvases from the Venetian and Roman schools.
With the rise to power of the Count-Duke of Olivares, Pereda's protectors were forced to withdraw from the court at the same time that the doors were closed to the artist. It was then that the painter focused hiscareer in the field of religious painting and still lifes. We must assume that the work that concerns us here would belong to this period, despite its dating has made it difficult for experts who place it around 1670.
Reclining in an armchair and deep in sleep, the artist presents a noble gentleman who rests one of his arms on the armrest to support his head. He appears dressed in elegant clothing and a hat that the artist has rendered in great detail. In front of the knight, a table full of the most varied objects –weapons, jewels, playing cards, masks, books…- everything is intermingled in endless iconographic elements that represent the distractions of this world and material goods.
However, in front of the knight and being clearly visible to the viewer, there appears a clock that reminds us of the tempus fugit, the inexorable passage of time impossible to stop. On the table there are also two skulls on top of other objects that remind us of the idea of death imposing itself on everything else.
In this same sense appears the central figure of the composition, a beautiful angel who carries a cartouche in Latin Aeterne pungit, I cite volat et occidit, which could be translated as It wounds eternally, flies fast and kills. The angel with his cartouche highlights the idea of the transience of life while his almost ethereal presence contrasts with the materiality of the objects that flood the gentleman's table.
Currently the work is in the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando inMadrid.