Module 2 Discussion Forum 1 Vanitas Paintings and the Meaning of Things

Discussion 1 / Vanitas : The Meaning of Things : Start 5/30 – End 6/6

Click on the title of this discussion forum above: Vanitas Paintings : The Meaning of Things in black to “Create Thread”

Part 1

Find a definition of a “Vanitas” painting .

Find an example of a still life that might qualify as a Vanitas and share with the class. You may post a link to works of art, or copy/paste an image, or add an attachment to your post.

I want each student to find articles that try to explain the philosophy behind the creation of the Vanity still life.

“Virtually all still lifes had a moralistic message, usually concerning the brevity of life. This is known as the vanitas theme”.

How did the religious environment found in the Baroque period of Northern Europe, effect the artists of that time?

Here are supplementary websites that might be helpful in your having successful learning outcomes, but are not required for your success in the discussion forum. You may always to independent research on the topics found in the discussion forum.

Here is an example:


Image.    Wikipedia Commons


What is the purpose behind the Vanitas subject?

Research the painting by the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer : Woman Holding a Balance




What does the woman have in the balance?

What painting is in the background behind the woman?

What is the meaning behind the painting?

How does this painting perfectly demonstrate the ideas behind a Vanitas Subject?

Michael Haykin said it well when he stated that “Calvinism resonates deeply with biblical truth; it speaks to every area of human life and thought.”34 Because of this circumstance, the demand for landscape, genre, and Biblical scenes blossomed in the Dutch middle class during the seventeenth century, as did the printing of religious pamphlets and books.

How Does the Protestant Reformation express itself in the art of Northern Europe?

Landscape painters can also express the ideas behind the Vanitas subject. Here is an example:

Jacob van Ruisdael
Dutch, c. 1628/1629 – 1682
c. 1670
oil on canvas
overall: 53.2 x 60 cm (20 15/16 x 23 5/8 in.)
framed: 78.7 x 85.1 x 9.5 cm (31 x 33 1/2 x 3 3/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection

“The juxtaposition of dead and broken trees with a fast-flowing stream in a rocky landscape is likely an allegorical reference to the transience of life”. 

This idea of the transcience

Part 2

What is your favorite, most precious possession. If there was a fire in your home, and you could save only one thing , what would it be?

I don’t mean family or friends, or pets. We are interested in an object, a physical thing that has importance. 

Do you think that we are too materialistic in America?

Do you think that we favor the love of things over the spiritual side of life?

Would you rather go to the mall than church, and has the glitter of mall architecture replaced the far off Cathedral that was the most important building in the distance?

Find articles that deal with materialism and spiritual ideals. Can we have riches like the woman in Vermeer’s painting, and be also spiritual?

Here is an example:

“This flower is so beautiful it makes my life worthwhile. If this flower dies, I won’t be able to live.” That is stupid, isn’t it? I mean, the flower is just an example; we do this with other people and all sorts of other things, but such is the extreme view of the materialistic mind. A more realistic approach would be, “Yes, the flower is beautiful, but it won’t last; alive today, dead tomorrow. But my satisfaction does not depend on that flower and I wasn’t born human just to enjoy flowers.”