Inspiration of the Day: Vanitas Still Life

25 Oct

Vanitas Still Life by Herman Steenwijck, 1640; contained the collection of the National Gallery, London, England.

Angry Metal Guy’s review for the new Anaal Nathrakh album spurred this thematic for the day by comparing the vanitas visual art style to Buddhism.  While pointed, this comparison is wholly incorrect based off the cultural impetus and usage of vanitas.  In other words, it’s the perfect misinterpretation of the mess of noise that is that album.

Vanitas is a Netherlands artistic style developed as an extension from the medieval death tropes often reflected in art, but typically upon tombstones as a sort of momento mori.  Per Martin Hall in his book “Archeology of the Modern World,” the phrase originates from here: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.  This is most simply placed as Vanities; all is vanity.  More to the point, due to its usage in medieval Europe, it is better translated as “Meaningless!”  This is a wholly nihilistic brand of artistry meant to focus on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death.

Another great example is Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors though, being from the 1500s, it is highly unlikely that he was inspired by this genre of art rather than being an artist that inspired it.  Often the imagery used in the paintings demonstrates things from the far off exotic locales the Dutch were visiting.  It not only served a moralistic purpose, but an affirming purpose in the Dutch’s burgeoning colonial power around the world (especially seen in the Holbein work, but also reflected in the above via the katana style sword, the Middle Eastern tea pot, the compass, and the bottom side of a lute).  In other words, Vanitas is a far more pointed social critique than a look at moments of death and the inevitability of death  and is no way comparable to Buddhism.

The other posts today reflect music that seems to be influenced by vanitas stylings.

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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Art, Idle Words., Inspiration, Rants


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