I. Classification, style:
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"Vanitas” was painted in 1660 by Juan de Nisa Valdés Leal (born May 4, 1622 in Sevilla, Spain—died October 15, 1690 in Sevilla), the president of the Sevilla (Seville) Academy, and a major figure in Sevillian painting for many years. His style is Baroque, dating from the last period of the Spanish Baroque. The paintings of Valdés show very clearly elements that prefigure the Spanish Rococo: hectic movement, immaterial forms, and brilliant coloring. 1
II. Analysis: (characteristics)
The Allegory of Vanity was painted in oil on canvas. The size is 51 7/16 by 39 1/8 inches. Now it is in Hartford in The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, begun in 1939. The painting has diverse and lively colors and the objects in it seem to lack borders. The aerial perspective we see is to the light and size of several of the objects depicted. The Tenebrismo is present in the painting so that we can see the light above the image in a dark ambient. There are so many details such as the color which is also very important for the theme. There is also a sense of movement in the painting.
In the Baroque period this kind of representation was very common, when still-life paintings featuring; skulls, musical instruments, coins, wealth, watch, etc. Such paintings are meant as a reminder of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death, encouraging a somber world view.2
Valdés tried to represent that same thing in Vanitas. The painting has three parts representing the time life, wealth, wisdom, power, and goal of our life on earth; God. The first part is in the foreground and is very rich in details and very symbolic. Among the several symbols we can see an angel with tube blowing soap bubbles, a skull, flowers, and a watch chain which symbolize the brevity of life and suddenness of death.
In the second part there are several books and tools for studying science, mathematics, astronomy, biology, and so on. Everything here pertains to human knowledge; symbolizing the brevity and the ephemeral nature of life. After death all this will be nothing and will be forgotten. This is a call for everybody to seek real wisdom, which comes from God.
All wealth will pass, and we cannot bring anything with us after death. The third part shows earthly riches, seen in the coins, diamonds, and jewels which symbolize the futility of wealth. Human power and papal power will also pass away, represented by the crowns of the pope and the king, and the miter of a bishop.
Next to these there is a smoking candle, which also symbolizes the brevity of life.
In the middle of the painting after you have caught a glimpse of everything there is an angel in human form showing the real life, wisdom, wealth, and power that are seem in Jesus Christ in the Last Judgment, and when judges everybody after death.
Valdés’ paintings often seem violent to us, because he tried to remind us about what everybody is afraid of most, death.
1. "Juan de Nisa Valdés Leal." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. .
2. "Juan de Nisa Valdés Leal." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. .