|© AK, 2006|
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Copyrights © AK, 2006
Iconography & Symbolism
... one generation dies,
Another in its place shall rise;
That, sinking soon into the grave,
Others succeed, like wave on wave.
Excerpt from 'Vanitas Vanitatum,
Omnia Vanitas' by Anne Bronte - (1845)
However, to the initiated, Baroque still life paintings are anything but mindless eye candy. The shrewd masters who perfected this genre were not mechanically copying random sets of things found in nature merely for the pleasure of reproducing them on canvas. For the most part, they chose their objects with utmost care, cherry picking them for their symbolic value, and their capacity to channel multiple layers of meaning. With just a few simple objects, these clever conjurers were capable of composing pictorial messages of remarkable complexity, eloquence, and beauty, much as poets exploit the ambiguous meaning of words to broaden the scope of a verse.
Vanitas paintings are a veritable feast for the eye as well as for the mind. They have their own internal logic, and are not only designed to dazzle the senses, but are meant to challenge the intellect as well. In order to fully appreciate vanitas paintings, each iconic element has to be carefully examined and its various potential symbolic meanings must be properly ascertained within the broader context of the piece as well as in relation to surrounding elements. In this genre, objects are seldom what they seem. A glass of red wine is not just a vessel containing fermented grape juice, but it could very well stand for the blood of Christ (particularly if it sits next to a loaf of bread), or it could refer to the human sense of taste, or even to debauchery.
Consider for instance, "Nature Morte a L' Echiquier"
- Partial list of symbolic objects traditionally used by vanitas painters >>>