Vanitas is a common theme in many Dutch Baroque still-life and genre paintings. Identify one painting and explain how this theme is illustrated.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Vanitas is a symbolic art form associated with the meaningless nature of life and vanity. Its Latin roots define it as "emptiness," and its use in the Bible ("Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas") translates to Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. The themes of vanitas are often found in medieval funeral art and sculpture. Macabre scenes of death and decay are common motifs that illustrate the negative aspects of vanity and pleasure and the positive side of morality. Symbolic objects include skulls, rotten fruit (indicating decay), and hourglasses. Despite its moral message, vanitas art also includes a sensuous side--another way of defining human decay and the fleeting nature of life.

The Dutch painter Harmen Steenwijck (1612-1656) produced many examples of vanitas-style art. His painting entitled Vanitas (1640) includes objects such as the skull, a half-burned candle, a seashell, smoking pipes, a wine jug and a dagger; the objects symbolize several of the themes, including death, personal gratification, and indulgence.

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