Vanitas and Transience

Many seventeenth-century paintings contain references to the ephemeral nature of earthly existence. In these works artists depicted skulls, wilted flowers, hourglasses and snuffed candles to remind their public of the transience of life. Costly objects, like jewellery or pretty clothes, mirrors and books were also popular memento mori features highlighting the temporary nature of beauty, wealth and wisdom. These vanitas symbols ('vanitas' refers to vain and superficial appearance) were frequently depicted in still lifes as well as occasional allegorical scenes and portraits. Art depicting these symbols was intended to encourage the viewer to do something useful with their life and to place less value on worldly pleasures.