During Gerrit Dou’s lifetime there was an active debate over which form of art was the best representation of nature. His own work may have been intended to make a case for painting. After studying under Rembrandt for three years he developed a distinctive style so refined that it required him to manufacture his own brushes. It is said that he once spent five days in painting a hand.
The Hermit is an outstanding example of this highly perfected technique. Like many paintings of the Renaissance, it speaks through its iconography. The hourglass, skull and extinguished lantern symbolize the transience of life. The thistle represents the hermit’s constancy; the dead tree sprouting live branches, life after death.