All is Vanitas

The North Carolina Museum of Art had a Still Life exhibition last winter and I learned a new word. It is vanitas. Vanitas “allude to the transience of life.” They, frequently, have fruit (sometimes beginning to spoil), flowers (sometimes beginning to lose petals), butterflies, musical allusions, bones, time pieces.  Some were lavish bouquets of flowers that would never have stayed fresh long enough to be painted, or simply didn’t bloom in the same season.

One piece I found to be particularly clever had fruit and flowers that would never be present together. They are seasonally incompatible. (You have to know some about what produces when for that one to make sense. It would have worked better for people who grew their own food than the denizens of supermarkets. I’m not sure my son knows that grapes and tulips don’t go together.)

I like the more subtle vanitas, the ones you have to be paying attention to recognize.



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