Definition of vanitas in English:



  • A still-life painting of a 17th-century Dutch genre containing symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability.

    • ‘Candles, half-empty vases and clocks suggest the passing of time, which, in traditional vanitas paintings, can refer to both the transience of life and the speed with which death can make its claim.’
    • ‘Art historians have argued that this is a vanitas image, a chilling reminder that in the midst of all this wealth, power, and learning, death comes to us all.’
    • ‘The shift from vanitas to anatomical drawing was a critical moment.’
    • ‘A classic vanitas, the painting reminds us that time and its consequences cannot be slowed.’
    • ‘The human skull is familiar from the tradition of vanitas paintings where it serves to indicate the futility of human aspirations by stressing the ephemerality of human life.’


Latin, literally vanity, futility.