Vanitas still life symbolism
Dutch Golden Age still-life painter Adam Bernaert is the author of this Vanitas painting. The Dutch Vanitas still life symbolizes Memento mori, how vain and insignificant are human concerns, and, therefore, how important it is to turn to God. The term comes from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Actually not so famous Adam Bernaert was influenced by better-known Dutch painter Evert Collier. I’ve included artworks of both painters, as well as other vanitas still life painters’ in my post, as they are thematically and technically similar, and they lived at the same period of time. The present painting, based on a Collier composition, signed and dated 1663, work period of Adam Bernaert is known between 1660 – 1669.
Dutch painter Evert (Edward) Collier was born on January 26, 1642. He was a known for vanitas and trompe l’oeil paintings. He was buried September 8, 1708 at St. James’s, Piccadilly.
The skull is a reminder of the inevitability of death. Just as the portrait is only a reflection of once-living person and the skull is only the form of once-living head. The spectator must perceive it as “flipping”, it most clearly symbolizes the frailty of human life.
Rotten fruit is a symbol of aging. Mature fruits symbolize fertility, abundance, in the figurative sense of wealth and well-being. A number of fruit has its value: fall of man is denoted by pears, tomatoes, citrus fruit, grapes, peaches and cherries, and of course Apple. Erotic undertones are figs, plums, cherries, apples or peaches.
Flowers (fading); Rose is the flower of Venus, symbol of love and sex, that vain, as is inherent. Poppy is a depressant that produces opium, the character of mortal sin of laziness. Tulip is a collectible in the Netherlands of the 17th century, the symbol of the folly, irresponsible and unreasonable treatment bestowed by God.
Grain sprouts, Ivy or branches of Laurel (rarely) is a symbol of rebirth and life cycle.
Sea shells, sometimes living snail, a mollusc shell is the remains of once-living animal, it means death and frailty. Creeping is the personification of death Sin snail laziness. Large shellfish represent the duality of nature, symbol of lust, even one of the deadly sins.
Blowing bubbles is the brevity of life and suddenness of death; a reference to the expression of homo bulla — human being is a soap bubble.
Fuming candle or oil lamp is a symbol of the human soul, its loss symbolizes the care.
Cups, playing cards or dice, chess (rarely) is a sign of faulty life goal, finding pleasures and sinful life. Equality of opportunity in gambling meant also the reprehensible anonymity. Cigar tube — a symbol of transient and elusive of earthly delights.
Arms and Armour — the symbol of authority and power, the designation of what you cannot take with them to the grave. Keys — symbolize the power of the housewife, managing stocks. Ruins — symbolized by the transient lives of those who inhabit them sometime.
Carnival mask — is a sign of lack of people inside it. Also intended for the holiday the masquerade, reckless fun.
Mirrors, glass balls — a symbol of vanity, mirror, reflection, shadow sign too.
Broken dishes, usually glass goblets. Empty glass symbolizes death. Glass symbolizes the fragility, the snow-white porcelain is purity. Mortar and pestle — symbols of male and female sexuality. The bottle is a symbol of sin of drunkenness.
The knife is reminiscent of human vulnerability and mortality. In addition, it is a phallic symbol and the latent image of male sexuality.
Sand clock and mechanical watch is the transience of time.
Musical instruments, music page – brevity and the ephemeral nature of life, a symbol of art.
Books & maps (mappa mundi), the pen is the symbol of Sciences Pentium. The globe – is the Earth and sky.
Palette with brushes, a laurel wreath (usually on a skull), is painting and poetry. Portraits of beautiful women, anatomical drawings. Vanitas
Medical tools — a reminder of the frailty of the human body and diseases.
Coin purses, jewelry boxes, jewelry and cosmetics are designed to create beauty, feminine appeal, while at the same time they are linked with the vanity, narcissism and the mortal sin of arrogance. They also signal of their owners’ absence.
Papal tiaras, crowns and scepters and crowns made from leaves of powers — signs of transient earthly Dominion, which contrasts with the heavenly world order. Like masks, symbolize the absence of those who wore them.
A sheet of paper with moral message, for example:
Vanitas vanitatum. Ars longa vita brevis; Hodie mihi as CRA’s = tibi (today me tomorrow you); Gloria mundi Finis; Memento mori; Homo bulla; In ictu oculi (in no time); Pungit cito volat Aeterne et occidit (glory of heroic deeds will shatter just like sleep); Omnia morte cadunt mors ultima rerum linia (everything is destroyed by death, death is the final frontier of all things); Nil omne (everything is nothing).
Vanitas still life symbolism
Very rare still life paintings of this genre include human figures, sometimes the skeleton is personification of death. Objects often appear in disarray, symbolizing the overthrow of achievements that they stand for.