A Collection of Easter-Themed Vanitas Still Life
“They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” — John 19:17
My work, like the 17th century vanitas paintings that are my primary source of inspiration, often incorporates religious iconography. A common thread with this type of imagery is the juxtaposition between the dead flesh (a reminder of transience and decay) along side the crucifix (an image associated with salvation and rebirth). In this post, in honour of the season, I’ve decided to collect some of my Easter-themed still life work together. As of the time of writing all of these images are available for purchase in my online store; direct links are placed in the caption or else in the text just below the image.
In the above image the pig intestine stands in for the cloth that would normally be draped over the cross. (In the Catholic tradition the colour coding of the cloth carries meaning; normally a purple cloth is draped on Palm Sunday as a symbol of Christ’s royalty, black on Good Friday as a symbol of death, and white on Easter Sunday as a symbol of rebirth.) This image also incorporates several of my favourite recurring motifs: the tipped cup (a symbol of the fragility of life), and the extinguished candle (a symbol of death).
Vanitas still lifes frequently employ visual metaphors that make reference to the passage of time. Candles, fruit, and flowers all serve this role to some extent. But the clock in the image above is perhaps the most straightforward representation of this idea from the history of memento mori art. Note that time on the clock has been set to 3pm. This corresponds to the (approximate) time of Christ’s death. (The only Gospel writer to make note of the time of day of Christ’s death is Mark, who states that Jesus endured the torment of crucifixion for about 6 hours from the third hour — roughly 9am in modern parlance — putting his time of death at about 3pm.)
This triptych of images are somewhat older works, but have been made available for purchase due to renewed interest at shows and on social media.
The first image is a pieta of sorts. Here a porcelain statue of the virgin mother lovingly cradles the severed foot of a dead chicken and is draped in pig bowels that spill around her form like a dress (or perhaps suggesting blood).
The second image depicts a crucifix framed against an assortment of organ meats and dead flowers. The dead flowers suggest the biblical quote "Like a flower, he comes forth, then withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure." Job 14:2. The thorny rose stems, on the other hand, might suggest Christ's crown of thorns.
These same themes are, again, echoed in the third image of the triptych.
Happy Easter everyone!