HOME Art & Design
Dutch Vanitas: Life’s Fragility Expressed through Still Life Painting
Written by Yujin Son | Published. 2022.02.28 21:32 | Count : 266
[Photo of Dutch Vanitas that I created / Photo Credit : Yujin]


Have you ever heard of “Dutch Vanitas”? Dutch Vanitas is a type of still life painting that expresses the fragility of human life. 

The art of still life painting can be traced back to ancient years with the Egyptians painting their food and valuables.

This style of painting depicts stationary, mundane, commonplace objects.

This art genre flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries in Spain and the Netherlands, and was spread to other countries by European explorers. 

Still life painting enables the artist to express the elements and arrange them in a more individualistic way.

This is one of the main reasons why many artists practice still life painting or photography.

Additionally, they might be able to create their own art style through various trials.  

Dutch Vanitas has a lot of these features of the still life paintings. Various religious symbolisms, universal human reflections and allegorical explorations during the period are depicted.

Moreover, based on the application of the element, the meaning can be interpreted differently by people.

Some mention that still life painting evokes the prosperity of their country.

Others also mention that these provoke reflection on themselves through interpreting symbolism of objects. 

One of the special features that a majority of the dutch vanitas include is a skull.

Skulls symbolize the fragile life of humans and their inevitable death.

Another characteristic feature is light, which is emblematic of immorality. You can find many Dutch Vanitas with light coming in.

The light can also symbolize  God:  who lives forever, creating a direct contrast with the finite life of humans. 

Other common elements include rotten fruits, candles, and clocks, which symbolize aging.

The depiction of the melted candle and rotten fruit indirectly implies to the audience that time has passed.

Each specific fruit has its own meaning. For example, in general, apples are emblematic of temptation and original sin, and peaches represent salvation and truth.

Books demonstrate the curiosity of humans, and it’s limitations. Fabrics and jewelleries are illustrative of wealth and vanity. 

Decaying flowers allude to the inevitable mortality of humans, as they are interpreted as a dead body. Similar to the fruits, flowers signify different messages.

Each artist effectively uses these elements to express their individual and unique thoughts. 

While in some genres,  artists have to paint and express in only one restricted form, they can always control any aspects of their work such as the lighting, perspectives, color contrast and others whatever they want in still life painting.

They can also recognize the impact of their structure, arrangement, colour contrast, tone or other effects that the people will receive, making it easier for the artists to create the atmosphere and deliver the message that they want.

Not only 15-16th century Dutch Vanitas, but there are also many contemporary vanitas produced by various people to criticize modern society.

Candles might be replaced by the digital clock, books to laptops and fruits to fast foods.

These elements can be interpreted based on this modern society. For example, laptops might symbolize knowledge.

This is the same as what a book represents, but simultaneously it can also possess the meaning of addiction, which is the image that modern people think about laptops.     

Dutch Vanitas is undoubtedly an interesting type of painting. Unconfined arrangement of structure, tone, light, color and other elements present a new sight to the audience.

Moreover, it provides you with a room of imagination as interpretation that you make, is the answer. 











Yujin Son


Australian International School 

Yujin Son  hsr@dherald.com

<Copyright © The Herald Insight, All rights reseverd.>

Reply 2
View All
Back to Top