Obelisk Art History
Themes in Art

Vanitas

Vanitas, Themes in Art

Vanitas is a loose category of artwork that illustrates the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, often featuring heavy-handed allegory in the form of skulls, insects, rotting plants, candles burning low and hourglasses draining out a last few grains of sand. Vanitas paintings named after the verse in Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8 from the King James Bible: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

It’s also thought that vanitas artwork allowed artists during religious eras like the Northern Renaissance a sneaky excuse to paint still-lifes of beautiful, decadent objects behind a moral facade.

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Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, Vincent Van Gogh

Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette Vincent Van Gogh, 1885 – 1886

Still Life, Edwaert Collier

Still Life Edwaert Collier, 1699

Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’, Edwaert Collier

Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’ Edwaert Collier, 1696

Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a Skull, Edwaert Collier

Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a Skull Edwaert Collier, 1663

Vanitas Still Life, Edwaert Collier

Vanitas Still Life Edwaert Collier, 1675

Vanitas Still-life, Maria van Oosterwijck

Vanitas Still-life Maria van Oosterwijck, 1668

More Themes in Art
Allegory, Themes in Art

Allegory

Art to illustrate and teach

Gardens, Themes in Art

Gardens

Spend some time in a quiet place

Artist Letters, Themes in Art

Artist Letters

From the heart to the pen

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