Chapter 1 of 3
Vanitas, a Latin word for emptiness, refers to a type of painting that captures the effect of fleeting time. It derives from a passage in Ecclesiastes in the Bible: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! (Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas!)” To remind the viewer that beauty, wealth, and worldly pleasures demise with time, artists represented flowers and delicacies that are on the verge of decay. Allegories—combinations of symbols and personifications—also communicate through visual riddles the fragility of human life in the face of time.
Chapter 2 of 3
Narrative paintings often combine scenes from multiple moments of the depicted story, rather than provide a snapshot of a single moment. Visual clues that evoke episodes from before and after the main event are mixed into the scene. Sometimes figures appear more than once in different parts of the picture to suggest the sequence of events.
Chapter 3 of 3
Past and present coexist in paintings. Making the past relevant to the contemporary viewer has been a fundamental issue in history painting, and many artists depicted historical figures in contemporary attire to bring the stories to life. Conversely, they made reference to the antiquities when they wished to add authority and glamor to a contemporary scene.