For some inspiration of memento mori/vanitas style paintings, I went to the V&A museum.
There wasn’t a lot admittedly, as some of the paintings are currently in storage.
“Still Life with a Dead Stag” by Frans Snyders
Oil on Canvas. 1640-50. Netherlands.
Museum info: “The most prized quarry in hunting was the stag, depicted here with throat and hamstrings cut, and gutted. Showing game hung for butchery and baskets of fruit, this type of still life represented worldly pursuits and fleeting pleasures. The thieving monkey embodies stupidity, and may refer to human barbarism being guided by animal instincts and desires. This monumental painting was probably the focal point of a large room.”
Probably the second best example of a vanitas that I found. With most vanitas paintings there is always a juxtaposition between life and death. The animals carcasses are a bit more gruesome than the usual vanitas. Although most animal carcasses are hung upside down, something about this painting reminded me of biblical themes, almost as if the animals (especially the deer) have been crucified. St Peter was crucified upside down as he said he was not worthy of being positioned in the same way that Christ was. This shows humility, respect, and unworthiness.
“Flowers in a Niche” by Roelant Savery
Oil on canvas . 1621. Netherlands.
Museum info: “Savery combined observation and illusion in his flower paintings. This seemingly realistic arrangement – featuring iris, rose, lily, narcissus, tulip, forget-me-not and pansy – would have been impossible because the flowers bloom in different seasons. The insects and lizard are shown to be deceived by the illusion. Flower paintings like this has symbolic Christian meanings and alluded to the fleeting nature of human life.”
The wilting flowers were what drew me to this piece. Although it’s not really a vanitas painting, I feel some of the imagery is quite similar.
“Still Life” by N.L.Peschier
Oil on canvas. 1659. Netherlands.
“Here the skull and hourglass remind the viewer of the passing of time, while the coins and music allude to the end that death brings to wealth and earthly pleasures.”
This is the best (and most traditional) example of a vanitas in the V&A. The different symbolisms of the objects of the piece are compelling as it’s quite intriguing working out what each object means without reading the description first. The juxtaposing symbolism is what makes this piece a traditional vanitas.
“Flowers: Tulips, Camellias, Hyacinths” & “Flowers: Tulips, Azaleas, Roses” by Ignace-Henri-Jean-Theodore Fantin-Latour
Both: Oil on Canvas. 1864.
“Fantin approached still-life painting as a way to experiment with composition. It was a form of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ in which the beauty of line and colour was more important than any subject or moral”
Again, I was drawn to this piece as I liked the depictions of flowers. I don’t tend to like flower paintings normally but I think for the work I want to create for this project they would be a good source of inspiration.
“The Holy Sacrament Surrounded by Flowers” by Jan Pauwel Gillemans
Oil on canvas. 1565. Southern Netherlands.
“This painting is a good example of the Flemish flowers pieces in which was inserted a biblical subject matter. Most of the flowers and fruits here depicted allude to the Passion of Christ and echo the Holy Sacrament depicted in the centre of the composition. These compositions are characteristic of the school of Antwerp where Jan Brueghel the Elder (1601-1678), Daniel Seghers (1590-1661) and their followers produced still life combined with a figural scene.”
It was hard to get a decent photo of this piece so I found a better photo on the V&A website. The use of flowers and fruit in the flemish style is what caught my eye with this piece. I also liked the fact that is you look closely you can discover insects and other creatures hidden amongst the foliage.