Vanitas is a popular tradition that started during the Baroque period in seventeenth-century Holland. The Vanitas Tradition symbolizes the brevity of life and how unimportant the things of this world are. Vanitas Flower Still Life. Willem Van Aelst, uses iconography and represents the tradition beautifully.
The Vanitas Tradition started during the 17th century in Holland. It quickly spread throughout all of Europe. Vanitas comes from a verse in the Latin Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes: vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas. This means vanity of vanities and all is vanity.# The Dutch seemed to live by this verse, always remembering that this life will not last. Many believe it was this mindset that caused unheard of political and economic growth in the Dutch Republic. Vanitas still lifes usually contain objects such as skulls, gutted candles, flowers, bones, hourglasses, etc. These all symbolize the brevity of life in one way or another. The main message of the tradition is how things of this world will not last and do not compare with eternal life. Overall the artists want the viewer to focus more on faith and what counts instead of life’s trivial nonsense.
One Vanitas artist in particular is a Dutchman by the name of Willem Van Aelst. He was born in the Netherlands around 1626. His family was prominent in the city as magistrates. He learned still life from his uncle, Evert Van Aelst, who was also an artist. After many travels and great experiences, he went back to the Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam. He is one of the best known still life painters of his generation. Although he lived a short life (dying in 1683),he accomplished more than most do in their lifetime.
One example of Willem Van Aelst’s vanitas work is the Vanitas Flower Still Life. It is an oil on a canvas and can be found today in the North Carolina Museum of Art. This painting uses cool and dark colors. It is asymmetrical. Its subject matter includes the following...
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