“Vanitas” paintings are a type of still life of a purely intellectual nature. This genre, which was frequently deployed in the Counter-reformatory period, first arose in Holland but soon extended to all European countries, both Catholic and Protestant, albeit with variations depending on the school and period in question. In the case of French “vanitas” paintings, of which the present work is an example, during the second half of the 17th century such works acquired a notably decorative aspect as compositions in which the taste of the time was reflected in the depiction of items of goldsmiths’ work and musical instruments set against rich carpets and gold-embroidered curtains.

The objects, arranged on a table covered with a textile embroidered with Oriental motifs, are located on two planes, while an ornate curtain closes the composition. The cartouche with the inscription “OMNIA VANITAS”, inspired by the words from Ecclesiastes, reminds the viewer of the vanity of worldly things, each of which is reflected in the objects that symbolise them. Wealth is represented by a casket brimming over with jewels and by the coins scattered on the cloth; the crown and sceptre signify power and status; the miniature of a woman symbolises worldly love; the notebook and musical instruments symbolise pleasures; the playing cards and dice, referring to chance; and the perfume burner, the upper part of which is decorated in an Oriental style, may evoke wealth or possibly the transient nature of sensory pleasures. Finally, the terrestrial globe, an image of the world, which is the cause of pride and vanity, conveys the universal meaning of “vanitas”. It is reflected in a mirror, which is in itself a symbol of the brevity of all earthly gains and an affirmation of the vanity of worldly things, as stated in the inscription in the cartouche.


  • Title: Vanitas
  • Date Created: 1670
  • Place Part Of: Spain
  • Physical Dimensions: w640 x h500 mm (Complete)
  • Painter: Anonymous French Painter
  • Exhibition: Madrid, Spain
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Fundación Banco Santander, www.fundacionbancosantander.com
  • External Link: Fundación Banco Santander
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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