Sorgheloos ("Carefree") in Poverty

Date: 1510–20

Culture: Netherlandish

Medium: Colorless glass, vitreous paint and silver stain

Dimensions: Overall: 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)

Classification: Glass-Stained

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1999

Accession Number: 1999.243


Sorgheloos ("carefree" in medieval Dutch) was the antihero of a popular moralizing story of the late Middle Ages. Loosely based on the prodigal son of the Christian parable, Sorgheloos ignores all admonishments and embarks on the life of a spendthrift wastrel. Inevitably the money runs out, friends abandon him, and Sorgheloos is ruined. Unlike the prodigal, who returns to a forgiving father, the unredeemed Sorgheloos is condemned to poverty. This harsh cautionary tale found considerable resonance among the God-fearing, hardworking denizens of mercantile towns in the Lowlands. Here, Sorgheloos sits forlornly on an upended washtub before a boiling kettle of herring in a barren, crumbling house. His only companion, besides a pitiable dog and cat, is Poverty, who can be seen through the doorway gleaning straw to feed the fire.

The roundel's execution in several tones of paint and three hues of silver stain is unusually accomplished. The mattes were extensively worked with a badger brush to produce subtle gradations. Details and outlines are indicated with both a stylus and the tip of a brush.