The Nature as a Symbol of Vanitas

still life by Abraham Mignon

Dutch Golden Age painter Abraham Mignon (1640-1679) once again adds his trademark splash of white with a central white rose in this wonderful still life floral painting. Pink, red and blue flowers defy the title of this piece to some extent According to Wikipedia, “vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries…The word is Latin meaning “emptiness” and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of vanity.”

The painting is set in what looks like a cave with a pond. The stone walls create a dark and foreboding landscape but, as if by magic, light filters down onto the flowers to ensure we see their natural beauty.

Look closely among the flowers and you’ll see birds, a bird’s nest, a snail, several butterflies, a large insect, a frog and a pair of insects. In a painting full of natural life, the artist for some reason wants to convey the transient nature of beauty. Perhaps if beauty were not somewhat fleeting it would simply mean so much less to us.