Vanitas paintings take the form of still lifes, consisting of objects that symbolise death and love of human life and earthly pleasures. The symbols used are mirrors, skulls, hourglasses, flowers, amongst others. One of the most famous of the vanitas is Hans Holbein the Younger’s ‘The Ambassadors’.
The skewed skull in the corner provides a visual puzzle for the viewer. The skull, books and musical instrument serve as a Memento Mori or vanitas. In the ever burgeoning materialistic life we live now, I wonder what Memento Mori we would surround ourselves with now? Perhaps designer clothes, jewelry or labels? A DVD or IPOD perhaps? Are our earthly pleasures any different from the ones displayed in the Ambassadors painting? We are still obsessed with material possessions and showing them off, so perhaps not…..