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There is a quote on wikipedia which explains Tarkovsky use of paintings from the Old Masters in the movie:
>The references and allusions are Tarkovsky’s efforts to give the young art of cinema a historic perspective of centuries, to evoke the viewer’s feeling that cinema is a mature art.
I seem to recall that as well from the commentary track on the same movie.
[Here is the famous scene](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcglyhUre4w). I think the painting is not only shown beautifully, it is used to great effect to transition into the next scene.