Vanitas: a matter of life and death

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What does it mean to contemplate mortality? Does it have to be frightening or can it be empowering? This talk will look at the theme of ‘vanitas’ (the emptiness of the material world and the presence of death) in the history of art to better understand how past cultures have thought about the impermanence of life and how this type of thinking leads to a greater understanding of a life worth living.

Vanitas art is characterized by its symbolic and often morbid depictions of the fleeting nature of life, the inevitability of death, and the impermanence of worldly pleasures. Artists in the vanitas tradition created still-life compositions that included symbolic objects such as skulls, hourglasses, wilting flowers, and extinguished candles to remind viewers of life’s transience. These artworks served as a powerful reminder of the need for spiritual reflection, emphasizing the importance of living a virtuous and meaningful life.



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SKU: Vanitas Categories: Philosophy and spirituality, Visual art




Speaker: Sarah Jaffray

Sarah Jaffray holds a BA and MA in Art History with an emphasis in 19th/20th century France and a minor in the Italian Renaissance. She holds a second MA in Cultural Theory from Goldsmiths, University of London. Sarah was a lecturer for several colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area before relocating to London in 2012. She has worked in curatorial roles at the British Museum and Wellcome Collection. Sarah is currently a lecturer at the University of Arts London and Coordinator for City Lit’s Art History programme. Her art historical practice focuses on experimental narratives, artistic process, art pedagogy, politics and philosophy. Sarah’s current research is focused on translation and empathy.

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