Vanitas Still Life Art

what is vanitas?

Originating in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries, Vanitas became a very widespread type of Dutch master painting. A very dark form of still-life painting flourished as the Vanitas theme began to rise in popularity, as the artworks aimed to remind viewers about their own impending mortality.


An appropriate Vanitas art definition would encompass artworks that speak to the inevitability of mortality and the pointlessness of worldly pleasure.


Vanity encapsulated the idea behind Vanitas paintings, as they reminded people that they could not escape mortality.

vanitas & religion

Vanitas paintings were seen not only as a mere work of art, but they also carried significant moral messages that saw them being considered as a type of religious reminder.

vanitas & still life

The Vanitas genre was considered to be a sub-genre of still life painting.


The themes that were present in the Vanitas paintings that were produced had a lot in common with medieval commemorations of the dead.


The most important symbol was the awareness of man’s mortality, depicted through the inclusion of a skull.

FAMOUS vanitas artists and their artworks

Hans Holbein the Younger The Ambassadors  (1533)

Antonio de Pereda Allegory of Vanity  (1632 – 1636)

Judith Leyster The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) (1639)

Joris van Son Allegory on Human Life (1658 – 1660)

Edwaert Collier Vanitas – Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a Skull (1663)

legacy of vanitas art

Towards the end of the Dutch Golden Age, the Vanitas art genre began to lose its public popularity. What continued in the footsteps of Vanitas was the addition of aesthetic beauty to artworks. After Vanitas came to a close, still lifes were astonishingly beautiful until they underwent another change.