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Boy with a Candle and Girl with a Mousetrap

A mouse in a trap was a commonly understood metaphor for punished immoderation. In Dutch genre paintings of the 17th century, the mousetrap acquired a more specifically amatory implication. Just as the mouse sacrifices its life for its appetite, so the man loses his freedom because of his sexual desire. Daniel Heinsius's 'Emblemata Amatoria' (Leiden 1621) showed a mouse in an open trap being watched by a cat to illustrate the situation of the person who cannot live with or without love. The painters of the Leiden school often used such emblems within their pictures. Gerard Dou's 'The Mousetrap' (Dresden) combined the idea with a portrayal of a young couple in a candlelit interior. The candle, whilst permitting dramatic lighting effects, is clearly present to intensify the didactic message. Male sexual desire, like the candle, is easily enflamed but easily quenched and by then, the man will be trapped.

Not currently on display

British School after Cornelis Visscher II
17th Century?
On long-term loan to Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham
64.5 x 89.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Cartwright Bequest, 1686
Accession number