FYI You're Going To Die

The Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century had lead not only to new religions being formed, but it also resulted in people re-evaluting their spiritual selves. The main discontent reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, had with the Catholic Church was they felt the Church was breaking away from the Bible and were practicing and preaching according to social traditions. Many Protestant leaders preached about how people needed to be less concerned with owning as many worldly possessions as possible, and instead people should be more focused on their souls and making sure their souls go to heaven. This gallery will show how in the late 15th century, during the Reformation, and after the Reformation, genre scenes, portraits, religious scenes and figures, and manuscripts, were breaking away from worldly possessions and so called vanities. In almost all the images there is usually a skull and/or an hourglass. These objects were meant to serve as a reminder to how fragile and limited human life is on Earth. Especially, with the images where a skull is surrounded by other objects, these paintings were meant to serve as a reminder that when you pass from this life into the next you cannnot bring your worldly possessions into heaven. The only thing you can bring is our soul and that is what will be measured when you enter heaven, according to Protestant leaders at the time. 

This is a page from a prayer book that would have been read by Christians. It was meant to prepare the person spiritually for death. The reason for including this image, given that it was before the Remformation in 1517, is because noble men and women would have read from this book since it was handmade and expensive. This is also relevant since one of Martin Luther's discontent was selling of Indulgences. This meant if you had the funds you could buy your way into heaven.
As you can see on the right hand side on the desk of St.Francis there is a small skull. You can also see on the desk, what can be assumed, a Bible. It ties again with the pervious image of one perparing their soul for heaven. St.Francis serves as an important figure for denouncing all worldly possessions as he came from a wealthy merchant family, and upon receiving a vision from God he founded the Order of the Friars. It also believed he received the Stigmata ( the wounds of Christ). Although St. Francis was alive during the 1200s and this painting was created before the Reformation, it demonstrates what the Protestant reformers wanted from the Church, to return to a time when being a member of the clergy meant being humble and modest.
Although in the painting there is no skull or hourglass, the message of being modest and that life is fragile is still evident. For there is a gold time piece which means how life is short along with the flowers. Also you can see that the Protestant Reformation which is happening at the time when this portrait was created has had an effect on society. Being one of London's most wealthy merchant he is dressed modestly and he is not depicted as being surrounded by wealth and neither is his clothing that gives no indication of his wealth.
This painting is full of symbolism and there are various ways to interpret its meaning. Most notability is the distorted skull, when viewed from the right side the skull can be seen correctly. The placement of the skull is seen as reminding the viewer that life is short and that you will die one day. The placement of the skull plays another part and it ties into the Reformation that was happening in Europe at the time. For it is thought that the painting was orginially displayed above a staircase and the viewer coming up the staircase would see the skull correctly but also their eyes would have then been drawn to look at the French ambassador and would see that he is dressed modestly for his station. Along with all the objects that are on the table between him and the bishop. To which, all of the objects are meant to show that he reads and studies objects that are about learning about the heavens and time.
Art Historians know this is a portrait of a doctor based on the books painted in the background. The painting was created at a time, when according to historians, the Reformation was coming to an end( some say it was around 1648s with the end of Thirty Years War). Nonetheless, you can see from the painting that Reformation was still having an impact on the way society in Northern Europe that were Protestant was having on artists. For now there are portraits being created where the person being dispalyed is not drawn in a matter that shows their wealth, but rather that they are aware that life is short and they must prepare themselves for when the die and hopefully their soul enters heaven. This was very important for both Catholics and Protestants that their souls reach heaven and during this time period the Protestants were saying that the best way to this was by giving up luxury items and read from the Bible and study about the heavens. Although he was a doctor, this is before the Enlightenment period so his medicine would have still been more based off of religious belief and not so much on science and rational as was seen in the Enlightenment period in the 1700s.
Although the exact date of the paitning is unknown, historians know that it was painted at the end of the 17th century in Spain. Nowhere does it state that the subject has anything to do with the Reformation or the Counter-Reformation, but it is included in this gallery due to how the subjects relates to the shift in soceity in Europe at the time. For on the left side you see Magdalene discarding all her worldly possession and on the right she is laying on a hill in front of a garden with a skull near her head. This could be making reference to how she was renouncing her ways and was now becoming more spiritual and understood her life on earth was short and she needed to prepare her soul when she dies.
The siginficance of this painting is that it painted during the Thrity Year War that is happening in Northern Europe during the Portestant Reformation. As the title suggests it is showing the viewer what vanity looks like. As you can see the woman has her feet on skull, again this is stating how life is short and the child blowing bubbles is also making reference to that meaning that life is fragile. The subject matter is also important for the time period and especially with the Calvinist movement that viewed worldly possesions as a sin and the calvinist movement did have a large amonunt of followers in the Nertherlands.
The painting is meant to be read as an allegory about seduction and virture. You can see a woman getting dress and in a way is seducing the viewer to enter. However, you can see at the threshold there is a lute, a skull, and a book. The skull can be seen as a reminder that if you enter the room to act upon your desires you loose your virture and thus your soul cannot enter into heaven. Although this is after the Reformation you can still see that the teachings from Protestants still had an influence over society.
The painting was created at the same time as the previous image, and you can see the idea of painting images about vanity was popular in Dutch society. The book on the table is the Book of Psalms and it open on chapter 26. The message is obvious to study about the heavens and to not be too focused on worldly matters.
Although this painting does not have a skull or any other obvious indication that it has to do with vanity or the Reformation, it nonetheless has a hidden message that relates to the Reformation. In the background you can see a painting of the Last Judgement and its thought that you should not be too occupied with worldly possessions. Instead you should be concerned with preparing your soul for the next stage in your life.
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