This project started on November 18th, 2019. My initial plan was to create a series of vanitas images, print and frame them and do a live exhibition. However…we know what happened from there. As this is an ongoing series, it is still my hope and plan to one day be able to share the Vanitas Series as originally intended – live and in print.

If you are not familiar with the style Britannica defines it as:

“Vanitas, (from Latin vanitas, “vanity”), in art, a genre of still-life painting that flourished in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. A vanitas painting contains collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent.”

Many of the images were still life. However, there are examples of vanitas portraits as well.

Now let’s chat about the portraits!

ALLEGORY OF VANITY & PENANCE

This was the beginning of the series and the only one directly inspired by an existing painting, “Allegory of Vanity and Penance” by Guido Cagnacci.

Notable differences are the addition of jewelry and the kinds of flowers.
I included the pearls to add wealth symbolism to the image and selected roses as a symbol of love. Note the mix of fresh and dead flowers. The candle has been recently blown out and you can see the slightest hint of smoke by the wick.

ALLEGORY OF WEALTH⁠

In this portrait, there are multiple symbols representing wealth – the red velvet, pearls, shells, and more.⁠
I purposely left the rest of the scene sparse. One can have all of the outer trappings of wealth and still have a feeling of emptiness.⁠

ALLEGORY OF VANITY

She is entranced with her reflection but the world around her moves ever onward.⁠

Symbolic elements in this portrait include:

  • A Time Piece
  • Flowers (fresh and wilted)
  • The Mirror
  • Candles (one having gone out)
  • Shells

ALLEGORY OF KNOWLEDGE

Many who love learning surround themselves with their studies and symbols of their pursuit.

  • Books represent human curiosity and knowledge-seeking. But even hard-won learning cannot survive human mortality.
  • The globe represents knowledge and exploration, and to the awareness of man’s place in the world, the universe, and, by extrapolation, the
    after-world.
  • Game pieces represent impermanence linked with folly, indulgence, deception, and self-delusion
  • The pipe represents the transience of smoke, coupled with the censorious implications of time-wasting
  • Decaying flowers foreshadow the inevitable, eventual decay of the body and the mind.

There are several other symbols in this image as well.

On a personal note on the image. The model, Kate, runs a business selling rare books (Vellichor Place). It simply seemed to fit!

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