From one Vanitas to another


A photographic project with text describing the images, all accompanied by elegant graphics: the creator, author and soul is the photographer Enrica Pastore.

One may wonder what is the thin thread of Vanitas that unites time, silence and ephemerality.

Through her sensitivity to colour, framing and choice of subjects, Enrica recounts the Dutch painters of the Golden Age, i.e. the 17th century, when artists in lands below sea level pushed upwards to the sky of imagination to transcend reality, painting “still life” in the perspective of the “vanitas.” A new genre of painting was created that became very popular in those years marked by the sense of precariousness, fuelled by the atrocities of the Thirty Years’ War and the devastating plague that hit the European continent. But why does this theme still fascinate us and continue to be highly topical?

In order to find an impossible answer to this question, I will go back to my first encounter with the Vanitas, and to long-ago lessons of art history, where an attentive and elegant teacher, ethereal in the fragility of an age consumed by beauty, sought to capture the attention of the minds of young girls, who had no concept of caducity because they were happily climbing up the ladder of Life which, they were certain, would have led them to the realisation of their dreams.

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas, vanity of vanities and all is vanity: redundant construction, translation from Hebrew, which becomes a superlative, proverbial expression that opens and closes the long message of Qohelet, the book of wisdom in the Jewish and Christian bible, which finds a destabilising translator in Guido Ceronetti. Those words resound with threat in the dark nave of the church where the strong smell of incense hangs in the air, arousing a slight discomfort, the same that is felt when looking at Enrica’s perfect photographs, right down to the most insignificant details, evoking the paintings of Nordic atmospheres, where the objects are no longer simple indicators of reality, but take on a half-meaning, that transcends matter.

Viewers do not remain indifferent. They can choose to dwell on the technical aspect, on the bravura of the photographer in choosing lens and displays, tapping into the aesthetics: the beauty and harmony of the compositions, or they can let themselves be disrupted by the contaminations of time, places, thoughts. What is further away than a digital camera to tell the story of Holland of the Golden Age, of those opulent merchants who commissioned paintings for their magnificent homes, almost to ward off the inexorable flow of time?

Enrica – in the third millennium, in a “time” that passes too quickly and doesn’t give us the “time” to think, to look inside ourselves, to understand the real sense of a non-harmonizable life project, stops for an instant this perverted game that consumes and reduces individual “time” to pieces, just like Cronus devoured his children – first reassures us by wrapping objects and thoughts in precious fabrics, surrounding the space with evocative, bland objects, while at the same time making us feel restless and errant, in search of the lost meaning, of an Ithaca of objects of affection that have been lost, but not forgotten.

I would like this unusual choice, embodied in years of patient work aimed at building a system of thought to then translate it into images and words that are beautifully exhibited in the book and exhibition, to also be shared with those who cannot break away from the “internet” not even for a moment, who must always feel “connected”, whose self-worth depends on a “like”, who do not hesitate to “post” the most intimate and secret moments, even giving up on that element of modesty that would otherwise cause them to hide it, making everything more mysterious in order to capture the joy of discovery, and who surrender the soul of their days, to revive the myth of Faust who sold his soul in exchange for eternal youth, in a “tweet.”

Isn’t this continuous flow of information, which is fundamentally devoid of any meaning, perhaps the modern metaphor of Vanitas?

From one vanitas to another we arrive at more recent days, and a friend born in Vercelli, Alessandra Ruffino, with whom I share the love for antique books and especially the invention that revolutionised the history of humanity: the printing of moving characters. In August 2013, in the Cortile d’Onore of Palazzo Racchetti in Varallo, home of the Library, Alessandra presented her small and exquisite book, “Vanitas vs Veritas: Caravaggio, il liuto, la caraffa e altri disincanti” (Vanitas vs Veritas: Caravaggio, the lute, carafe and other disenchantments), which I shared with another dear Friend, Enrica, without knowing anything about her project that today has also landed in Varallo, in this same library, to continue walking among the men of our time who do not want to “waste time” but need to “take time” so as not to be overwhelmed by the transience of a chaotic present.



Dottoressa Piera Mazzone

Director of the Farinone-Centa Civic Library of Varallo Sesia

Text by

Piera Mazzone