I learned about vanitas still lifes in the winter of 2012. The museum had an exhibition of Still-Life Masterpieces: A Visual Feat from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the exhibition, but it was available to wander through during the holiday gala; so, we did.
And, we learned something important. We learned about the style of still life that is a memento mori. Some of them are pretty heavy handed. Full of skulls and clocks and hourglasses. Others are more subtle. There will be flowers in vases that would only last for a day, never for the amount of time that was necessary to paint them. Or less than perfect fruit that has bruises on it. Sometimes, there will be Spring flowers with Autumn fruit.
This painting is a great example of the second kind. Notice the bruises on the peaches. And the irises in a vase with morning glories. The lapin corpse and grey butterfly aren’t so subtle. But, I really enjoy this painting.
I think I have always had a curiosity about what people do at the end of life, their own and the lives of people they know. Funeral rites, grieving, afterlife beliefs, all intrigue me.
I remember being left in the car while my grandparents went to a funeral because they thought I was too young to go and, besides, I didn’t know the man who had died. I was curious to know what happened at a funeral and was really annoyed not to be allowed to go. They were probably right, though. I’d have been asking questions the whole time and annoyed everyone there.
I think I was 4 or 5 at the time.
Because of that fascination, I tend to enjoy wandering in old cemeteries. I take pictures of the markers and look for the stories of the family, such as I can puzzle out. I am intrigued by the symbols used on the tombstones and fascinated by the elaborate decorations and money spent. The vast tracts of land that are used to grown stones from boxes of bones make me scratch my head, too. There are monuments to people who are remembered by no one living.
I tend to have an outside-looking-in view when someone I know is dealing with the death of a loved one, even when it is one of my own relatives. I don’t believe in life after death. I believe all time is Now, we just see it from somewhen that is limited because we are experiencing Eternity from the pinhole of our hereandnow perspective.
This means that I try to make the hereandnow good and hold it in my memory with love.
I found this via StumbleUpon. I would be delighted to give attribution to the photographer if someone lets me know who.
In a post on Tumblr, Jennifer Palmer wrote:
“You’re trying so hard to understand 9-11 that you’re missing the whole point: 9-11 is about not understanding. It’s about how real change has very little to do with so-called progress.”
“But what if there’s a way to stop the next one?” I said, “What if we’re being given clues that will give us more time so that we could go to the media and hit the internets and let everybody know? Don’t we have an obligation to find out as much as we can?”
“The only obligation we have in this life is to die.”
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.
We spotted them when I took my son to visit his father.
Jay works in Florence, lives in Charleston. He sometimes meets me at either Dillon, SC (home of South of the Border) or Laurinburg, NC (home of not a whole lot). I travel down Hwy 15/501 to where 501 joins I-95 at Dillon. It is a decent compromise and beats trying to get around Raleigh in the evening when traffic tends to be obnoxious. And I like the country drive.
There is a cemetery on the east side of 501 going through Laurinburg. As we went through to the meeting place with Jay, I saw them, ghostly on the side of the road. On the way back up, I paused and drove through the cemetery. It was on my side of the road and we weren’t trying to keep to any timetable at that point. There were MANY crosses on various graves spotted all over the place.
To my GREAT annoyance, I did not have my camera with me.
When I went back through, I took my camera. And they were MUCH brighter than last time. But I was on a schedule, so I waited to take the picture when I had Christopher with me, so he could enjoy the scenery with me.
BUT when I got there at 4 AM, they had faded.
Apparently, the little black boxes on the back of them are little solar panels.
The first time I had seen them had been a cloudy day and the second time had been sunny. The ones close to the road, with the streetlights, were still glowing, however.
So, when I went back through Laurinburg the next time I took pictures of the glow-in-the-dark crosses.
Some of them have Madonna and Child medallions. Some are plain white crosses. I suspect that you can tell Protestants form Catholics that way.
I stopped to take daylight pictures on my way back. It got a little odder and a little more poignant.