Vanitas is an art genre that uses symbolism to depict the fleeting nature of life, the emptiness of worldly pleasures, and the inevitability of death.

‘Vanitas’ is Latin for vanity, signifying emptiness or the futility of actions. It draws from the verse 'Vanity of Vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity' (Ecclesiastes 12: 8) in the Old Testament, suggesting that all human deeds are fleeting when compared to the enduring nature of faith.

In paintings of this genre, still-life objects symbolise the impermanence of life. This art style originated in the 16th century and persisted into the 17th century.

Other words in the glossary

Building your collection? We can help.

Your questions, answered

Parra's studio, with Parra at the centre, his back to the camera as he works on the large painting takes centre stage, showing a faceless blue woman in a striped dress, painted in red, purple, blue and teal. The studio is full of brightly coloured paints, with a large window on the right and a patterned rug across the floor under the painting.