Vanitas – Live for the Moment!

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.


About InupiaqMartha

I am Martha White.
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5 Responses to Vanitas – Live for the Moment!

  1. angela0marie says:

    First of all, I also liked the still life paintings. I thought the depth of the meaning of the symbols that appear so simple. I liked the interpretation of the bubbles as being a representation of how fragile life is. I would have never come up with this meaning for the bubbles, but it makes a very good analogy for life.

    Did you happen to look into who the pictures of the people, besides himself, in the painting are? I think this would be an interesting fact to know. I also think it’s kind of humorous that he chose to paint himself from years before. I know we all want to leave behind a good image of himself, and I’m assuming he felt better about his appearance in his youth than he did 6 years before he passed away as, even in our generation, most people appreciate their younger appearance than their older ones.

    Good blog, great picture choice!

  2. LeAnn says:

    Hello Martha,

    I also enjoy Vanitas still life paintings and totally agree with the fact that tomorrow’s never promised, so we should live our lives to the fullest. You cited your work correctly with references and included the essential information. Plus, you also included some nice facts such as bubbles being similar to the fragility of precious life. You analyzed this piece very well because I also would have never thought of that. You connected the painting to royal influences by stating that Bailly worked for German princes. The positioning of objects in Vanitas still lifes are called triangle compositions, which leads the eye in a clockwise path. I had one question: what is artyfactory? I became interested because it’s new to me. Great blog!

  3. I liked the thoroughness of your blog and the information about the piece and the artist. Vanita’s remind me of a “where’s Waldo” of life’s meaning. The symbolism can be discrete and foreshadowing or obvious and almost playful. I also that it was funny that he painted himself as a younger man. I also enjoyed the two portraits, It reminded me of dreams within dreams-now I wanna watch Incepetion haha. But when I looked at the picture it seemed like the portrait in his hand is a portrait of himself when he’s older and it is the only one pointed to the pile of treasures and expenditures of living, the pearls and dying pedals caught in the sight of the skull-death. All the other statues and portraits point to his portrait which then brings your eye to his hand and that portrait which then leads your eye by it’s eyeline to the skull. It’s all very intriguing, I love the symbolism and many subjects within this painting.

  4. I like the painting you chose, the vast amount and variety of allegorical items is what caught my eye. I thought it was an interesting fact that Bailly painted himself young in this painting. I wonder if age served a specific purpose for this particular them or if that’s how the artist envisioned himself. You analysis of the painting is great, it is full of details and help me better understand the representation that the artist chose. Great concluding quote as well, it helped bring significance of the painting with the Baroque period. Your personal input made this blog very interesting to read.

  5. nomyawblazer says:

    Very nice still life painting you chose to review. I have never heard of David Bailly before reading your blog post , and I really enjoyed reading your information on him and what he did an accomplished as an artist. I love works of art that contain symbolic messages and images and can be interpreted in many different ways. Just as you posted, the skull, extinguished candle, and overturned cup refer to death, but I am rather curious as to why the artist decided to depict himself as a young man, and not as a man in his late 60’s, as he would have been when he painted this piece. Maybe he was trying to allude to the death/loss of his youth or he simply felt that with youth one is full of life. This Vanitas painting is poses many questions and is quite interesting to look at and interpret. I have learned a lot from your post on this artist and enjoyed your reaction to his work.

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