I love the theme of Vanitas still life paintings! Live life to the fullest every day because it will not last! I especially like the painting by David Bailly (1584-1657) entitled Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols. Bailly painted this in 1651 just six years before he passed away yet the image he paints of himself is a young man. It is unique in that it is a Vanitas still life as well as a portrait within a portrait. The significant items representing death are the skull, the extinguished candle, the tipped-over glass, the hour glass and the wilting flowers. The luxuries of life are depicted in the coins, the pearls, the pipe, and the art (paintings and statues). This painting is obviously about the artist’s life evidenced by the palatte hanging on the wall, the brush in the artist’s hand, and the paintings around the room.
Bailly was a teacher in this style and even taught his nephew, Harmen Steenwyck, another well-known artist in this style (artyfactory). He was the son of a calligrapher and spent time working for German princes as well as painting students and professors at a university. These Vanitas paintings were somewhat religious in nature warning about the sins of the flesh, essentially that you can’t take it with you so you need to worry about your eternal soul. There was use of light and dark to give a sense of depth to the room. Also, positioning of objects, starting with the largest being the man himself and then the natural movement to the painting on the wall, then the drapery (folding of clothes), then the light color of the flowers and finally to rest on the table of items. The bubbles, I thought could be another symbol of the instance of change, just as a bubble pops, a life could be over. I found that to be true in that the soap bubbles are symbol of ‘transience’ (WGA).
Great and unusual Vanitas-style painting that teaches us to live for the moment and do not take too much value in material things.