Vanitas, found in many recent pieces, is a style of painting begun in the 17th Century by Dutch artists. Artists involved in this movement include Pieter Claesz, Domenico Fetti and Bernardo Strozzi . Using still-life as their milieu, those artists and others like them provide the viewer with ideas regarding the brevity of life. The artists are giving us a taste of the swiftness with which life can fade and death overtakes us all. Some late 20th Century examples were shown recently at the Virginia Museum of Art in Richmond, Virginia. Among the artists represented in this show were Miroslaw Balka (Polish, b. 1958), Christian Boltanski (French, b. 1944), Leonardo Drew (American, b. 1961), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (American, b. Cuba, 1957- 1996), Jim Hodges (American, b. 1957), Anish Kapoor (British, b. India, 1954), and Jac Leirner (Brazilian, b. 1961).
In the poem Vanitas Vanitatum by John Webster, we are given a clear view of this movement in the art world.
"ALL the flowers of the spring
Meet to perfume our burying"
is a beautiful juxtaposition of the beauty of life and the sorrow of passing away. Actually, any definition of this term would be overshadowed by this poem, it so clearly sums up the meaning and importance behind the word Vanitas.
"Vanitas still life with portrait of a young painter " by David Bailly includes such objects as dying flowers, a skull, a painting of musician, musical instruments (recorder, conductor's baton), statuary of a young, virile man and a young child, a portrait of another young man, and a clean palette hanging on the wall. The meaning behind these articles can be manifold, depending upon one's point of view, but I think they are all important symbols of the passing nature of vitality and life itself. The flowers, once brilliant and lovely, are now withering in their vase. Music, represented by a man playing a lute in a portrait on the wall and by numerous music related items (a recorder, a conductor's...
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