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Vanitas (Still Life), with globe, skull, candle, tazza, and covered cup

Accession Number
1965/2.55

Title
Vanitas (Still Life), with globe, skull, candle, tazza, and covered cup

Artist(s)
Willem Claesz Heda

Object Creation Date
1633-1635

Medium & Support
oil on panel

Dimensions
22 1/16 in. x 31 7/8 in. ( 56 cm x 80.9 cm )

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28 2009
Many of the objects crowded on the tabletop here—the empty cups lying on their sides, the globe with figures of the zodiac, the skull, the extinguished candle—evoke the passage of time, impermanence, and the transience of human life. This type of painting is known as a vanitas still life based on the opening passage of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which declares “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Vanitas still-life painting first appeared in the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century, and Heda was one of its most renowned practitioners. In this panel Heda counterbalances the admonition against finding security in life and its comforts with a more worldly delight in objects themselves—objects that reflected the Netherlands’ economic stability at the time and the emergence of the world’s first middle class there. Heda invites us to experience these objects in a nearly tactile way, arranging them tantalizingly along the edge of the table, compelling us to appreciate their sensuous qualities—the glint of precious metal, the cool weight of a chain against the velvety table cover—rendering them as covetable objects in a time of abundance.

Subject matter
Many of the objects crowded on the tabletop in this masterful painting--the empty cups laying on their sides, the globe with figures of the zodiac, the skull, the extinguished candle--evoke the passage of time and the transience of human life. This type of painting, known as a vanitas still life, became popular in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, and Heda, who worked in the city of Haarlem, was one of its most renowned practitioners. The admonition against finding security in life and its comforts, however, is counterbalanced in the painting by the delight in the objects tantalizingly arranged along the edge of the table and Heda's skill in rendering their sensuous qualities such as the glint of precious metal and the cool weight of the chain against the velvety tablecover.

Physical Description
This remarkable still life depicts a table crowded with, among other things, a gilded covered goblet, a wide saucer-shaped silver tazza, a celestial globe painted with images of the constellations, a skull wearing a laurel wreath, and an extinguished candle, all rendered in exquisite detail with careful attention paid to the effects of light and texture. While the arrangement of objects may appear casual, the composition is artfully balanced along two diagonal axes centered on the two cups that lie crossed on the table. The repetition of ovoid shapes throughout the painting and the monochrome tonality with its restricted range of hues and values, a hallmark of Heda's style, assures the seamless integration of the sundry objects into a unified whole.

Primary Object Classification
Painting

Primary Object Type
vanitas

Additional Object Classification(s)
Painting

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
Baroque
candlesticks
cups (drinking vessels)
globes (cartographic spheres)
skulls (skeleton components)
vanitas

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& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved