Vanita: The lost revolution of deep meanings

Photo by Alexander Sergienko on Unsplash

Dear reader,

At first sight, it might seem to be a morbid meaningless clumsy depiction of death, and sorrow and the hopeless personation of an artist’s internal failure, but we do always fail to stop for a second and admire the beauty and hidden meaning behind the painting. This does have a darker meaning but everything deep is dark to some extent. Don't think I belong to the satanic cult or something like tantric. I have come to hear a whisper or few that India is still thought of country of black magic, tantric and spirit worshippers Indians are responsible for that, they tend to believe in superstitious stuff like that, because once India was the centre for international education and the best education was available in this country, like the University of Taxila and Nalanda. I am a quite scientifically sound kid, so don't worry. Vanita is a revolution that everybody forgot and was scared to practice. But this tamas runs in my blood, this is one of my additions to my gene. There is a beautiful pain in the picture. A vanitas is a symbolic work of art showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, often contrasting symbols of wealth and symbols of ephemerality and death. Vanitas is a style of still life paintings. Vanitas consist of some basic elements known as motifs —

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen
  • A book or Scroll, or maybe a pen made of feather, depicts the hollowness of earthly knowledge and the artist’s quench to eternal knowledge and this curiosity that he leaves in his seemingly immortal creation. To be honest, this is true, think about it. Education is so hollow, you might be an expert in something but I can always assure that you don't know something, but at the same time you have an understanding of it all, and even with all that knowledge and the opportunity to learn some forget to learn how to be a human and become a man instead, how funny! And how true.
  • A musical instrument that depicts the sonorous and hand in hand nature of the world, the reflective nature of human life.
  • smoke, watches, or hourglasses that depict the brevity of our life, the reminder that we are mortals, and we will leave everything behind. The artist tries to reflect on the thought that everything he chased till death would be left behind and that it has no meaning because it is all a null hypothesis after death. Death is the outcome, life is the game and how you play is all.
  • Rotten fruit or any other organic matter depicts that decay is inevitable.
  • Fruit, flowers and butterflies can be interpreted as the beauty of life and the afterlife, these elements are not voluntarily visible neither vivid, which means beauty is hidden and short-lived, try to find it in even the most unexpected places. Flowers are a less obvious style used in these paintings, it was widely used by Abraham Mignon.
  • The skeleton of a pigeon depicts the shortness of peace in life, we must enjoy it till we can, and try to retain it.
  • A peeled orange, looks attractive but it is just as sour, this depicts that all that looks good might not be so, poison is also depicted the same way.
  • Gold, jewellery, and jews and other items of wealth depict wealth and power, it depicts the hollowness of wealth and power and how empty it is and that life can be simpler.
  • Masks are uncommon but depict the hypocrisy of humans and different forms of a single being. Masks were typically used by Antonio De Pereda in his portraits.
  • And finally a skull, it is nothing but the depiction of death, yes, you were right, death. The final destination.

Why is vanitas called vanitas ?—

The Latin noun vanitas (from the Latin adjective vanus ‘empty’) means ‘emptiness’, ‘futility’, or ‘worthlessness’, the traditional Christian view is that earthly goods and pursuits are transient and worthless. It alludes to Ecclesiastes, where vanitas translates the Hebrew word hevel, which also includes the concept of transitoriness.

Bit of history lesson —

Vanitas flourished secretly in the Netherlands in the 17 th century. Vanitas vanitatum is the title of an oratorio written by an Italian Baroque composer Giacomo Carissimi (1604/1605 -1674). Vanitas became a popular genre of Dutch master paintings in the seventeenth century. It utilized the still-life form to evoke the fleeting quality of life and the vanity of living. The Dutch Golden Age (1575–1675) produced a remarkable outpouring of artistic genius. This rise of artistic genius during the Dutch Renaissance formed the deep meaningful vanitas depicting the vanity of life, these types of paintings were thought to be extremely unlucky and morbid, as they were a world apart from the usual drawings of prosperity and blessings of gods and godly portraits and all those stuff, these artists knew that the typical paintings were keeping people away from the truth of life, the vanity of it, so started the revolution to bring the truth in its true form to the eyes of the common people as explicitly as possible. It received a lot of critical comments from the social elites, and superstitions broke out that the vanitas was unlucky, and by the end of the 18 th century the mission of the vanitas had come to a cease.

Some famous artists were David Bailly, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Willem Claesz Heda, Pieter Potter, and Harmen and Pieter van Steenwyck.

Photo by Free Walking Tour Salzburg on Unsplash
Vanitas by Harmen Stynweek
Vanita by Antonio De Perada

Modern revival —

We are far from that 15 th or 16 th century us, technology is flourishing every day now. We are every moment driving ourselves into a huge data pool. We are on the verge of thousands of scientific major breakthroughs. And vanitas saw a chance of revival, a new glorious future for them to exist again. Vanitas has started a new journey again. People are getting attracted and understanding the importance of it. Everybody is modifying vanitas to their likings, like adding a floppy disk for book, or tube light instead of lamps, and some also are adding digital clocks and smartwatches instead of the sand clock, yet some are sticking to the beauty and simplicity of the classic vanitas.

Some famous modern artists are Alexander James, Alt-Ego, Derrick Santini, Hannah Matthews, Jeroen Gordijn, Jimmy Galvin, Kalliopi Lemos, Lauren Baker, Nancy Fouts, Paul Broomfield, Pure Evil, Rebecca Mason, Sara Pope, Soozy Lipsey, Tom Lewis and Toni Gallagher.

Art ranked discovery engine — web commons

Recently I got introduced to it, and immediately like it. I saw the meaning at once and thought of portraying the meaning of it to you. Thank you so much for reading and take care. Have a good day, stay safe, keep focused, keep learning. Reading is good for you so keep reading. If you like it, share it with people you would like to and thanks again.



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Divyosmi Goswami

Divyosmi Goswami

Divyosmi Goswami: A digital nomad's journal wandering through the physical and cyber city discovering himself.