Vanitas... this is the name given to still life paintings that, with refinement and thin symbols, allude to the theme of the caducity of life, to the ephemeral condition of existence, to the passage of time and to the temporariness of earthly goods.
This type of painting emerged in the Dutch Golden Age, which encompasses most of the 17th century. The first half of the century was marked by the Eighty Years’ War: the war of independence from Spain. After winning their independence, the United Dutch Republic ran the country peacefully for the second half of the century.
During this time, trade by the Dutch East India Company thrived and many new territories were charted by Dutch explorers and many painters begin to excel in the art world, and were very successful among the new middle-class patrons, the main customers of the art works.
Painters of the Golden Age painted scenes that their rich patrons wanted to see and that would find a good place in their homes.
This new wealth from merchant and exploration activities, which brought new products from imports, combined with the lack of a religious patronage, shifted the art subjects from biblical to real life. Still lifes of everyday items, landscapes, and seascapes that celebrated the republic’s naval and trade power were very popular, as were large group portraits of a corporation or civic organisation.
I wanted to create a photographic project that told the story of this historical period, of the artists who painted still lifes called “Vanitas”. I did it according to my own perspective because I believe this theme to still be very topical and relevant today.
I find these paintings fascinating because of the provocation they throw at the dimensions-entities of space and of time, restoring the three-dimensional aspect to the surface of the canvas and giving the illusion that time has stopped at that precise moment, the nunc of vanity.
I am intrigued by the triumph of objects that seem to survive in order to constantly remind us of our fragility.
These works give me a positive feeling of silence and emptiness that often makes me reflect, meditate and look for innumerable meanings, sometimes preordained to become precepts, and teachings.
These images are also lies, they reveal themselves in this way but they do not represent reality. This is a more specific way to emphasise the deceptiveness and vanity of the pleasures of life, beautiful but unnecessary when faced with the passage of time. Artificial settings and even familiar ones reveal the taste for intimacy and privacy, with common objects and things that, when recognised, give the feeling of uncovering a secret.
For artists, representation of the vanitas should have an absolutely innovative meaning. It goes from man’s relationship with inanimate material things, seen in their conventionally attributed sense, to an idea of featured objects and signifiers, symbols and values that take on the same importance as a human figure in the painting.
These concepts were related to the caducity of life, to the transient nature of existence, to the inexorable passage of time, to life and death, to the precariousness of earthly goods… all closely linked to bourgeois life, to wealth, scientific discoveries, the variety of foods, furnishings, fabrics...
Each photo in this project is accompanied by a small text as a means to share my view on the meanings, contents and the references sought and reproduced.
I added some short notes on the choices made, on the historic and poetic references, on peculiar aspects and traditions.