CHAPTER 2: Fleeting Time

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.

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Image credit:
Abraham van Beyeren
A Roemer with Grapes, a Pewter Plate, and a Roll, 17th century (detail)
Oil on wood panel
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1984