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Vanitas motif from Johann Caspar Lavater's Physiognomic Fragments (1775–78): Death lurks behind the mask of beauty.

Vanitas ( Latin "empty appearance, nothingness, vanity "; also boasting, failure or futility) is a word for the Judeo - Christian idea of ​​the transience of everything earthly, which is expressed in the book of Kohelet (preacher Solomon) in the Old Testament ( Koh 1,2  LUT ): “Everything is vain.” This translation by Martin Luther uses “vain” in the original sense of “void”.

Vanitas motifs have a traditional commonality that has persisted over time: They should show that humans have no power over life. From the perspective of vanitas rhetoric, there is nothing negative about becoming and perishing as willed by God. It is not the ephemeral that is supposed to appear worthless, but the attempts to show it and hold on to it. Impermanence only becomes a punishment when the assertion of forms or values ​​opposes this change. Hence, such assertions criticize themselves by justifying themselves, making their inadequacy clear, or warning against them. In this way they allow themselves what they condemn at the same time.

The most conspicuous are images of the past and the passing away, such as skulls or hourglasses, with which these images indicate that they cannot reproduce anything living. Texts or music also make the past and fading an issue and thus question your own efforts to capture it. In the simplest case, it is a representation that makes it clear as an obvious illusion that it is presenting something absent. The absence of presence is a paradox that is repeatedly taken up in modern art history and theory. The lifelessness of the representation and the lack of what is represented mutually emphasize each other and challenge the viewer's imagination. The older scientific literature was rather limited to certain phenomena such as vanitas still lifes and vanitas motifs in baroque poetry. Since the end of the 20th century, numerous approaches and exhibition concepts have emphasized the interdisciplinary and intermedial contexts in a broader historical context.

With the rise of vanitas since the Renaissance , a conflict between the Middle Ages and the modern age - the dichotomy between human humility and human self-confidence - has been taken to extremes. It reached a climax in the Baroque period . The work of art confesses or justifies its own vanity. From the later eighteenth century onward, liberation from humility prevailed: the view that human work need not be vain. Since around 1760, the overcoming of vanitas has been moved to the center of a bourgeois high culture and older vanitas motifs are often attributed to a less valued popular culture.


Mosaic from Pompeii

The originally Hebrew word הֶבֶל häväl means "breath of wind", in the Latin Bible ( Vulgate ) it was translated as vanitas and is often quoted in the etymological figure vanitas vanitatum , which is literally translated from Hebrew . The interpretation is controversial. In classical Latin , impermanence is not yet a major aspect of the word meaning of vanitas .

Complaints about impermanence in the belief that it cannot be stopped can already be found in antiquity . The philosopher Plato interpreted the saying panta rhei ("Everything flows." Old Greek πάντα ῥεῖ ), which is ascribed to Heraclitus , in this way. In his Dialogue Phaedrus he criticized the written record and compared it to painting (thereby criticizing his own record of Socrates ' oral teachings). The lamentations of Jeremiah establish a tradition that goes back to the Baroque period. The stoicism of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and the wall paintings in Pompeii were already associated with the idea of ​​vanitas.

However, antiquity did not yet know the general condemnation of pride , which then became common in Christianity. The saying Sic transit gloria mundi ("So the glory of the world passes."), With which the popes are reminded of their impermanence, is not yet documented in antiquity. And Hippocrates ' saying “Life is short, art long” ( ancient Greek Ὁ μὲν βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρά. ) Does not yet assume that every art, through its striving to hold on to something, is improper and is in harmony with the justify own nullity. In the Roman satire of a Juvenal , for example , the vanities of the world are exposed, but the satirist does not yet vacillate suggestively between self-humiliation and arrogance.

middle Ages

Printed dance of death ( woodcut ) by Michael Wolgemut

The historian Philippe Ariès emphasized that on late Roman pagan tombstones , a multitude of images and texts attempted to cling to the ephemeral. The contemporary Christian tombstones, on the other hand, often only show the cross . The Confessiones (around 400) of Augustine of Hippo became a model for the Christian turning away from the ancient world. If writing is to remain a medium of transmission, it must always justify itself. A copyist of the Alexander novel by the name of Ion explains, for example, that he "copied the book so that people could read it so that they would understand that the pursuit of worldly power is a vanitatum vanitas".

In the form of writings and images , the ephemeral appears permanent and controllable. However, according to the medieval religious understanding, this remains an appearance, because the essential and vital cannot be captured. According to early Christian views from the Neo-Platonism environment ( Tertullian , Origen ), which have been confirmed many times by scholasticism , the revival remains a divine privilege and human work is soulless. A connection between monotheism and hostility towards images , as it is shaped in the Jewish religion, shows itself again and again in the Christian and in the Islamic world. The heyday of icons in the Eastern Churches was followed by counter-movements such as the Byzantine iconoclasm and the ban on images in Islam . Islamic Arabic inscriptions are also seen in connection with the vanitas tradition.

The quem quaeritis trope in the 10th century as the nucleus of western theater culture enables a representation of the salvation event only with the message that nothing can be represented: the resurrection of Christ is shown by merely presenting his empty grave. It is a disappearance without a trace, but its presence should be believed. According to this view, only the divine miracle can create “presence”. Human presentations, on the other hand, are deliberate illusions and therefore reprehensible.

The nullity of every human representation is a fundamental idea of ​​the Christian worldview, and medieval representations of all kinds have to assert themselves against this notion. As a rule, this happens through the admission of one's own nothingness as a purifying and justifying message. Scholastic philosophy takes seriously statements that claim that they contain nothing true ( liar paradox ). In the 12th century, Hugo von St. Viktor published De vanitate mundi, a kind of theory of vanitas that is critical of learning and traveling. An anonymous treatise from the circle of the Victorians distinguishes three types of vanitas: that of impermanence, curiosity and mortality.

Puppet show from the Hortus Deliciarum

Any representation is doomed to failure because it must remain lifeless, and it can or must therefore only represent failure. This also applies to the language: “Only the name remains of yesterday's rose”, Bernhard von Cluny notes around 1140 (this became the title of Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose ). The medieval encyclopedia Hortus Deliciarum from the 12th century is full of warning depictions of death. One illustration of it represents a puppet show , which is commented on with the words "vanitas vanitatum". While the depiction seems lively, the text explains the allegorical meaning and describes the puppet show as playing with monsters. Such warnings legitimize representations that appear to be alive without being alive.

Dance of death depictions since the late Middle Ages are justified by the fact that they are not more successful than what is depicted: the image remains as dead as the skeleton depicted. It does not dance, just as the skeleton can not dance, and his observation is as loose relationship game as that shown ballroom dancing . What is represented, the representation as well as their reception equally strive for something that is not within their possibilities. The anonymous dissemination of the picture by printing could justify itself in this way. Ars moriendi fonts, which have been printed in large numbers, contain images and texts with symbols of impermanence.

Art makes a fool of its viewer. Late medieval relief on Nördlingen town hall .

Fools in particular stood for vanitas in the Middle Ages. Court jesters like Chalamala in the 14th century were supposed to remind their rulers of the impermanence of human stubbornness. They were the ridiculous pose and indecent because they themselves were ridiculous and unseemly. Fool attributes such as quirk or fool mirror were signs of self-reference and thus reprehensible. Text or image can neither preserve the author's voice nor make his roles and characters eloquent and lively. Today there is a temptation to interpret these examples 'against the grain', i.e. to understand the conventional admission of one's own inadequacy conversely as an idiosyncratic quality or “ autonomy ” of a medium : With the literary fool's motif, a “ polyperspectivity ” and a “ suppression of the Distance between the levels of narration and the narrated “to be connected instead of affirming with these exaggerations that the narrative contains no perspective and cannot bridge any distance.

A common allegory of vanity was the woman's world . Literary mirrors held up the world to nothing. The time of Carnival , in which dance, music and theater events have been organized since the 15th century, was under the motto of its own transience .

A central symbol of vanitas is the music that fades away immediately. The late medieval lamentation of Mary expresses the irretrievable loss of the earthly Christ, and the singing Mary or her interpreter will soon follow him. The fading of the song was a warning sign of this. There are also other lawsuits such as Planctus or Complainte . - The Ubi-sunt motif in medieval poetry conveyed a similar message . The accusation of death, as it was quite common, was made with awareness of its own powerlessness. While reading, I got the impression that someone had tried unsuccessfully to capture something in writing.


Deceased lovers , painting by an unknown artist from the Upper Rhine region, around 1470 ( Strasbourg , women's shelter museum )

A “positive negativity” is already evident in the late medieval novel , with which the courtly representation is carefully upgraded. In the field of religious art, the sociologist Talcott Parsons believed that there was a "significant shift" through the upgrading of the portraits of Mary compared to the crucifixion and martyrs. In his Trionfi (before 1374), Francesco Petrarca lets human virtues triumph alongside death and time. Simultaneously with this blossoming of the arts and with the revaluation of pagan antiquity in the Renaissance , a great need for justification arose for such efforts - with constant setbacks such as Savonarola's destruction of art in the " Purgatory of Vanities " in 1497. Paracelsus condemned the power of the human imagination and made it for them Plague responsible. The greater the public a work of art becomes, the more it has to defend itself through its warning message. Guyot Marchant's dance of death, published in several editions in 1485, bears the subtitle: A healing mirror for all people of all classes . Albrecht Dürer's woodcut Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (1498) shows how man prepares his own downfall - a warning that allows the artist to develop his skills. Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (1500) already shows a collection of Vanitas motifs, such as musical instruments, books, documents, weapons and armor, as it later became common.

Satires like Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools (1494) or Erasmus von Rotterdam's Praise of Folly (1511) were to be understood in the tradition of the fool who reveals the folly of the world (and perhaps says something clever without making any claim to it). Michel Foucault spoke in this context of a "replacement of the death theme by that of madness". In his main work La Gerusalemme liberata (1574), the poet Torquato Tasso tried to combine piety and artistic pride, and despaired of it.

For Joachim du Bellay ( Le premier livre des antiquités de Rome , 1558) the ruins of Rome are still signs of the just downfall of this pagan power, but the warning allows one to speak about them permanently. Impermanence is portrayed as a punishment for those who do not accept it, and this warning must be imperishable. Georg Rollehagen's Froschmeuseler epic (1595) is justified with the vanitas motto, because the text is based on an ancient model and is designed as a "re-use text".

Le Transi by Ligier Richier

Ligier Richier's sculpture Le Transi (1547) of the living corpse of Renatus (Orange-Nassau) is famous . In the painting of the 16th century it was common to depict warning symbols of impermanence on the back ( verso ) of portraits . The double figures with which the same person is represented once young and once old (or as a skeleton) have a similar principle. Beyond the warning message, death and the maiden become a popular pretext for erotic representations.

The iconoclasm of the Reformation intensified the need for justification for pictorial representations. The development of oil painting was a thorn in the side of picture critics like Hieronymus Emser . The central perspective enabled her to be deceptively accurate, which stage painting used for illusions. The pictures of the Protestants , if there was a need, had to move from the church to the private rooms.

Time became increasingly measurable and in the course of economic development it became an asset. Parallel to the illusionism of oil painting, the control of time in connection with transience became a controversial topic.


Vanitas is an important motif in literature, visual arts, theater and music of the Baroque era . It is the culmination of an ongoing tradition. Beauty and decay are combined.


In the Pensées (around 1657), Blaise Pascal relates the vanité to the urge for validity at the time of the French Classical period ; in the German-speaking area, attention was more drawn to the destruction of the Thirty Years War . This basic mood of vanitas can be found, for example, in a sonnet by Andreas Gryphius in 1637 , which expresses deep resignation to life and was often quoted again in post-war Germany :

You see / wherever you look, only find vanity.
What this one bawt today / that tomorrow will
arrive : Where itz and cities stand / there will be
a meadow , where a shepherd's child will play with the herds.

What is blooming and blooming will soon come to fruition.
What is now throbbing and defying is ash and bone tomorrow.
Nothing is eternal / no stone no marble.
Itzt laughs at the happiness / soon the complaints thunder.

The high deeds of fame must pass like a dream.
As long as the game of the times / the easy man exist.
Oh! what is all that we respect delicious,

as bad inefficiency / as shit, dust and winds.
As a meadow flower / that you won't find again.
Still no one wants to consider what is eternal.
- Andreas Gryphius: It's all vain . (1637)

Reading as being silent: The Arcadian Shepherds (2nd version, 1637/38) by Nicolas Poussin

Popular sayings that were supposed to call to mind the transience of everything earthly were Memento mori (“Remember that you must die”) and Carpe diem (“Enjoy the day” or “Use the day”, a quote from Horace ). It remains to be seen whether this should encourage the enjoyment of life or a sensible use of the remaining time. As in the saying "We were what you are" from the legend The Three Living and the Three Dead , the reading person addresses future readers who will be in the same situation, i.e. in the role of a dead person. The analogous sentence Et in Arcadia ego , which was not documented in antiquity, should obviously not be traced back to any particular author or writer despite the word “I”. It can be found on three different baroque paintings, which show the frightened or elegiac silence of reading shepherds, thus doubling both the silence of the writing and the reading of the viewer. The inscription is not intended to lead to a triumph of the imagination, which it could visualize as a sounding language, but on the contrary to an admission of inability, because the painted shepherds are just as mute as the writing and give the viewer the premonition that he himself will one day be mute .

In a similar mise-en-abyme structure as in the pictorial dance of death, where the dead seems to move in the inanimate image, here the dead seems to speak in inanimate writing. This makes the reader aware that it is only he who is speaking. The medium of recording is played with by making its muteness and lifelessness the content aspect: Because the poems and aphorisms are written messages, the personal pronouns "I", "You", "We" or "Your" can optionally refer to Schreiber or readers (or their roles) relate to what leads to a confrontation of times and identities, of moment and duration, of life and death or of personal commitment and anonymity. Differences between readers are emphasized (as Jacques Derrida examined under the catchphrase Différance ) instead of assuming in the modern sense that records build bridges and striving for a community of author and audience. The only common ground here is common death. The request “Wake up my heart” in Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas! (1643) by Andreas Gryphius, for example, referring to the scribe, is only a sign of nothingness, because his voice today neither sounds nor his wish can be fulfilled; in relation to the reader, however, it is an appeal to self-reflection.

In modern times, vanitas motifs made it possible to combine ancient tragedy with Christian ideas and thereby enable its renewal: Before the Second World War, Walter Benjamin emphasized in his failed habilitation thesis that, in contrast to Greek tragedy, the baroque tragedy is not myth but history treated and presented as permanent decay.

Visual and performing arts

Vanitas motifs: dying out candle, skull and hourglass on a baroque tombstone ( Maria Trost in Fernitz )

Vanitas symbols are supposed to remind of the transience of life and earthly goods, mostly with moralizing intent. Also the escape of the living from the violent access is her topic. Common vanitas attributes in the fine arts are the skull, the dying candle, the hourglass and the withered flower. In a broader sense, scenes of hermit and mortification ( St. Jerome , Maria Magdalena ) also belong in this context: They repeat or anticipate the loneliness of the viewer and his despair over the absence of what is depicted in the picture. This gives this desperation something purifying.

Hopeless desire: Maria Magdalena (1663) by Guido Cagnacci

A “great innovation” in works of art of the 17th century may appear to be that “the objects drove the subject away”. Conversely, it has already been argued that they only create the modern subject when they stand opposite it. In any case, an older perspective is taken to the extreme by these representations: the object cannot replace the living counterpart because it cannot reciprocate the attention of the viewer or user. It remains indifferent and makes him aware of his own anonymity. In the form of a fixed observer's perspective , he would transfer the silence and controllability of the recording to himself. That is why the vanitas symbols also include objects that are seen today as signs of self-satisfied and meaningful activity or socializing, such as books, collectibles or games. According to the opinion of the time, they lead to melancholy . The competition and rivalry that ignited them were not necessarily considered fair. The viewer is always involved in this symbolism, because he himself is ephemeral, while the viewed objects remain as orphaned and worthless things.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet with Yorick's skull (1899)

When Hamlet addresses the head of the court jester Yorick in William Shakespeare 's tragedy of the same name (1602) (Act V, Scene 1), this does not lead to an imaginary dialogue, but rather the rhetorical figure of the apostrophe as a complaint about the absence of the dead. The skull as a relic is not revered by Hamlet or kept as evidence, but carelessly thrown away. The conviction of the murderer through Hamlet's art at the end of this drama does not lead to a solution in the manner of a crime story.

In the performing arts , the main vanitas attributes are shadow , echo and mirror image , which are thematized in operas and ballets as fleeting appearances and mechanical substitutes for something alive. Puppets and machines belong in the same context . Recordings such as pictures and letters serve as a sign that the sender or those depicted are not there, perhaps even irretrievably lost like the deceased or unfaithful loved one. This situation often gives rise to an aria , such as the surviving lament from Claudio Monteverdi's lost opera L'Arianna (1608). In the opera L'Orfeo (1607) the singer fails with his art and has to be saved by the god Apollo . The Magdalenenklage mediates between sacred and secular music, and its composed pain already expresses a musical expression in the modern sense. The anonymity of all art is admonished in Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624), in which lovers destroy each other through musically imitated art of war. Techniques and ' fine arts ' were not yet separated in the linguistic usage of the time.

The 'play within the play' in Baroque theater is understood as appearance in appearance, as in Pedro Calderón de la Barca's Life is a Dream (1635). In the merely imagined and acted action, a merely dreamed action occurs. The hypocrisy of the performer of Molières Tartuffe (assuming that every representation is a lie) is justified by the fact that he exposes the hypocrisy of the character depicted. The double hypocrisy is canceled out, as it were, because it warns against itself. The literary motif of the deceived fraudster is based on this construction. This corresponds to the 'illustration in the illustration' as the basic figure of vanitas representations. The pretended to be a pretense. This procedure is also called mise en abyme .

Jean François de Le Motte, Trompe-l'œil : Vanité (17th century)

In the Dutch painting of the 17th century in the area of ​​influence of the University of Leiden , artful and exemplary vanitas representations were created to this day. Against the background of rampant plague, the never-ending horrors of the wars of religion and the bombastic display of splendor and power in the golden age , this becomes understandable as a time-critical attitude. There were also Catholic centers of vanitas painting such as Paris and the northern Italian cities. Usually the motif of vanitas is connected with an appeal to turn to God and the Christian faith. At the same time, such art objects also fetched high prices. The cult of earthly values ​​that was practiced with them could justify itself through their warning message.

Vanitas still lifes were very popular, combining the eye appeal of a perfectly painted arrangement of apparently arbitrary objects with a network of symbols revolving around the concept of vanitas. Anonymous relics of human willfulness stand in contrast to the uncontrollable, God-given life. The symbols for this were familiar to contemporary viewers.

An important role in pictorial vanitas motifs is played by the paradox that the ephemeral is permanently captured in it, that it seems close enough to touch, but still remains unreal ( trompe-l'œil ). What appears to be alive is dead, the shine of gold is shine, the plastic is flat, what is obviously scented or smelly does not smell, what is ringing does not sound, candles or lamps give the viewer no light, the waking gaze of those depicted is blind. The genre of the still life represents a fundamental shortcoming of the picture, namely its dumbness and lifelessness, in many ways. All of this is combined in depictions of the five senses in order to warn against sensuality , which is understood as a deception. When corpses or carcasses are depicted, the inability of the image to reproduce the living in the depicted doubles. The anamorphosis in the painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein draws attention to the fact that the two-dimensional image can only be distorted in all art. The wax figures of Gaetano Zumbo complement the third dimension ; this heightened realism, however, also reinforces the warning of illness and decay. The temporality of decay is precisely what they cannot represent. Today a film can also capture the temporality and thus point out its lifelessness.

Characteristic of vanitas representations are rhetorical duplications ( pleonasm ) such as the dead in the dead picture, the mute in the silent picture, the immobile in the still picture, the blind in the blind picture, the incomprehensible in the incomprehensible picture, the fragment in the fragmentary picture. Nothingness contains itself. Helpless repetition is itself a vanitas motif. This is to warn the viewer of the illusion and throw it back on himself. Nevertheless, the illusion is made as perfect as possible. The art historian Ernst Gombrich commented: “The more refined the illusion, the more urgent the morality of the opposition between appearance and reality.” The warning that there is no living thing justifies enjoyment. This contrast explains the baroque antithetics .

Vanitas symbols

The following list is based on Ingvar Bergström's threefold division into “symbols of earthly existence”, “symbols of death and transience” and “symbols of the resurrection from death and overcoming death”, with the death symbols at the beginning.

Empty forms

Still life by Pieter Claesz

The picture itself is “empty” without the viewer's gaze. This characteristic is repeated in the form of empty shapes within the picture.

Just as the picture shows only one form of what was once living, the skull is only one form of the living head. As a vanitas motif, it emphasizes the lifelessness of the objects that surround or depict it. The viewer should perceive the skull as his reflection.
The mask is a sign of the absence of the mask wearer, just as the image does not contain what is shown. It also stands for carnival , festive entertainment, irresponsible anonymity .
Like shadows, mirrors only show an external form of what is reflected. They are also a symbol of vanity.
Empty glass
An empty glass, often juxtaposed with a full one, symbolizes death. The glasses without glasses have a similar meaning.
Snail shell
Empty snail shells or pearl boats (see Nautilus Cup ) are remnants of once living animals. They therefore stand for death and transience, as do the mussel shells. As crawling animals, snails are also an embodiment of the deadly sin of indolence. Most land snails, as hybrid creatures, are also a symbol of lust , another deadly sin.
Vanitas depiction in Konstanz Minster
Insignia of power
Crowns - also the tiara , laurel wreaths or turbans -, sceptres , armor , helmets, chains of office, etc. are signs of the transitory earthly world order, which is opposed to the heavenly world order as an eternal institution. Similar to masks, they symbolize the absence of the decorated or crowned personalities. Keys represent, for example, the power of the housewife who manages supplies and goods. These are material in nature and ephemeral like the housewife herself.
Ruins or artificial ruins and abandoned rooms show the transience of their inhabitants. Vegetation or cobwebs emphasize neglect or decay.
Fragments are separated from a context, just like the picture as a whole by the delimitation of its frame. The viewer is free to either perceive what is missing or to add his imagination to what is missing.

Luxury goods

Still life by Pieter Boel

A popular and ambivalent symbol are luxury goods of all kinds. In the understanding of the Calvinist -influenced Dutch of the Baroque era, luxury is the well-deserved reward of the righteous and pious. It is an outward sign of being chosen and of God's blessing. The wealth of the pious is at the same time an obligation to an exemplary and virtuous way of life in the awareness of the ephemeral and external. The thoughtless enjoyment of luxury and the immoderate pursuit of wealth are sinful and must lead to the loss of goods.

With the help of the vanitas symbolism, wealth could be proudly displayed and at the same time played down as something ephemeral and nothing. Precious bowls, glass goblets, chased metal cups, but also money, jewelry or exotic foods such as citrus fruits stand for luxury, for the human pursuit of material wealth.

Jewelry and cosmetics stand for beauty, feminine attraction, but also for transience, vanity, the self-love of those who wear them and the mortal sin of pride . They also address the absence of those who are decorated.
Preciously decorated boxes represent the 'feminine' principle of sexuality. Via the notional detour 'wife = Eve's daughter', the can is indirectly a symbol of the Fall .
Clocks stand for time , especially for lifetime and thus for mortality. It doesn't have to be hourglasses; mechanical pocket watches convey the same message. But as luxury goods they also stand for prosperity and earthly goods.


Still life by Balthasar van der Ast
Flowers, leaves, branches
They stand for vitality and vitality. Flowering branches, however, are doomed to wither. Cut flowers are doomed to die. To emphasize the aspect of impermanence, withered flowers are often shown next to blossoming ones. In addition to this general meaning, of course, the special symbolism of the individual plants and flowers also applies. Intensely scented flowers or herbs are also shown because the picture cannot convey the scent.
The rose as the flower of Venus represents above all love and sexuality. Worldly love, like everything human, is vain.
Poppy, a sedative, represents sleep and the deadly sin of indolence. In addition, it symbolizes the brother of sleep, death. On the other hand, because of its red color, the poppy is a symbol of the Passion of Christ .
Allegory of the Tulipomania by Jan Brueghel the Younger
In the months around the turn of the year 1636/37, tulips in Holland experienced an incredible boom. In the course of a ludicrous tulip mania , many gamblers got rich trading onions. Even more lost property through bad speculation. That is why the tulip - at least in Dutch still lifes from this period - also stands for carelessness, irresponsibility and unreasonable handling of the divine gift of money. In his satire Allegory of Tulipomania, Jan Brueghel the Younger uses vanitas symbols such as contracts, money, tools, signs of luxury and domination, as well as the monkey , who cannot imitate people better than a painting.
Fruits mean fertility, abundance and, figuratively, wealth and prosperity. This too is not permanent. This is often illustrated by placing overripe and rotten fruit next to appetizing fruit. Several fruits have their own symbolic meanings. The fall of man can for example be symbolized by pears, tomatoes, citrus fruits, grapes, peaches or cherries. And of course from the apple . Eroticism can be indicated by figs, plums, cherries, apples or peaches.


Still life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Mice, rats
These fertile animals were great storage pests and thus messengers of transience. They are associated with the devil and often symbolize the fall of man.
The lizard was an unclean animal, a snake with feet, a small dragon , companion of the devil. On the other hand, because she likes to expose herself to the sun, she was also a symbol of devotion to Jesus Christ.
Flies, spiders and other insects
Flies and other insects symbolize short life. In addition, they are food pests. The fly in particular is considered to be the companion of the devil ( Beelzebub = lord of the flies). The butterflies are an exception (see Christ symbols ).
A parrot is a precious animal and therefore a luxury good. But it is also an animal that imitates human language, an echo that, like the image, cannot really answer. Since the parrot never understands what he is saying, he is a symbol of the vanity of man who chases nonsensical fashions instead of turning to his God.


Still life by Frans Snyders

Like music, culinary art was the epitome of ephemeral art.

Confectionery, sugar candy
Precious sweets are a sign of luxury and vain waste, but depending on the context, could also be interpreted the other way round as a premonition of the 'pleasures of heaven'.
The meaning is unclear. As a food, the production of which may require considerable effort and time, cheese may have been understood as a symbol of luxury as well as transience.
The tropical fruit , which was very expensive at the time, is a sign of luxury. Since it is used sparingly because of its acidity and is not eaten greedily, it is also a common symbol of the virtue of moderation .
Game or prey
Game or hunting booty can often be found in the kitchen still life, which on the one hand indicates the sumptuous delights of the table and stands for prosperity, wellbeing and luxury. On the other hand, the draped silent animal carcasses show the mortality of all earthly life. Carcasses are blind and mute like the picture itself. Art as well as prey are dead human work. - Among the prey animals, the hare is of particular importance. The hare is the fastest uphill because of its short front legs. In his defenselessness he stands for the believer. As the hare flees uphill, so the Christian should turn to his God as the mountain of wisdom. (In iconography no distinction is made between rabbits and hare.)

Home appliance

Still life by Willem Claesz. Heda
The burning candle is a symbol for matter and spirit , the flame stands for the human soul , its extinction for death. Often the smoke of the extinguished candle is depicted.
Candle extinguisher
The extinguisher with which the candle flame is smothered is of course also a symbol for dying and passing away.
With its sharpness and danger, a knife is a reminder of human vulnerability and mortality. It is also a phallic symbol and a covert representation of male sexuality.
Glass and ceramics
Preciously decorated glasses and especially porcelain dishes were luxury goods. In addition, they represent fragility and thus impermanence. Because of its radiant whiteness, the porcelain also stands for purity. Analogously, glass stands for chastity because of its translucent clarity .
Broken glass or dishes
Broken glass or dishes show the vulnerability of human happiness and also represent death.
A jug can symbolize the vice of alcoholism. It can also be a symbol of (endangered) virginity.
Mortar and pestle or pestle are symbols for female and male sexuality and the pursuit of sexual fulfillment. This striving is, of course, vain.


Death with soap bubbles in Michelsberg Monastery , Bamberg
Diego de Acedo as an educated court jester by Diego Velázquez (1644)

Education was not yet fundamentally upgraded compared to pastime as it had been since the 18th century. Science was only just getting rid of suspicions of occultism . Also the collection was still considered a sign of selfishness and a bad habit such as smoking. The Vanitas motifs convey a pronounced hostility towards education in Spain at times, as is reflected in paintings by Diego Velázquez .

Depicted pictures or statues are very often used as vanitas props : The picture makes itself and its inability to preserve what is depicted and to reproduce it vividly the subject.
Letters are material products of human relationships and embody them. These relationships are fleeting. For letters, books and sheet music it was still true that the reader's voice was not a full replacement for the faded voice of the writer, but only made it clear that it was missing.
Musical instruments, musical notes
Although music could already be recorded, outside of the liturgical context it was considered unique and unrepeatable. The performance was over, the sound faded, the musicians disappeared and the sheet music and instruments were just a sign of the absence. Instrumental music was still inferior to singing. The musical instrument was seen as a symbol for the missing person. In addition, the image with the representation of music makes clear his inability to convey the sound. However, this stimulates the viewer's imagination.
Playing cards, dice
Playing cards , dice and other utensils of social pastime are signs of a failed goal in life, the turn to fleeting pleasure, bad company, a sinful life. The equality of gambling was still considered as reprehensible anonymity. This should make the enjoying viewer aware of his own anonymity in front of the picture. As an art lover or collector, he was no better than the gambler. The performing arts was a game itself, and the represented game was a game within a game.
Michel Gobin : Young man with a pipe , after 1681
Tobacco products
Tobacco pipes and other smoking utensils are a sign of momentary, fleeting enjoyment. Smoke and smell cannot be captured in the picture. - The famous painting La trahison des images (1929) with the inscription Ceci n'est pas une pipe (“This is not a pipe”) by René Magritte is another allusion to this symbolism.
Soap bubbles
Soap bubbles like glass balls are a symbol of human life, both for its beauty and its transience. Seen as a ball, they can also be interpreted as a symbol for the impermanence of life.
Scholarly books, contracts, legal regulations, calendars, plans, maps, globes, measuring instruments, antiques, curiosities, all of this only brings together earthly knowledge and striving and is therefore transitory.

Symbols of overcoming death

On many vanitas representations, which should not only show the negative, there are symbols of overcoming death. Jewish- Sephardic art uses the phoenix or the butterfly as symbols for the immortality of the soul. Similarly, indirectly, the Protestant depictions of vanitas avoided the traditional Christian motifs (which is particularly noticeable in the difference between Dutch and Spanish art). Their message remained deeper. In contrast to the directly recognizable, sensual, but unreal images (which Charles S. Peirce called icons ), the symbols for religious reality are only recognizable if they can be interpreted. They are supposed to convey this semiotic message. The triumph of mimesis through the deceptively accurate representation is devalued by its content: what the picture shows is not real, but what it can only 'say' in a roundabout way. - Frequently used symbols of Christ are

Fish as a Christian symbol
The fish is a widespread Christian symbol that has nothing to do with the pictorial fish because it is considered acronym comes from the Greek: ἰχθύς / ΙΧΘΎΣ ( Ichthys ) = iota ησούς Χ ριστός .theta εού Υ ιός Σ ωτήρ (Jesus Christ, God's Son , Savior - the first letters form the word "fish").
Bread or ears of corn, wine or grapes
They point to the Eucharist , the new covenant and the salvation it promises.
The chalice is also a symbol for wine and thus for the Eucharist and the New Covenant.
Caterpillar, butterfly
The caterpillar that turns into a butterfly is a symbol of resurrection and redemption. The butterfly is also a symbol of the human soul.
Because of its preciousness and whiteness, ivory has been a symbol of purity and durability since ancient times.
Because of the nail-shaped seeds, the carnation is a symbol of the passion of Christ.
Salt is just as essential to life as Christ is necessary to salvation. That is why salt is a symbol of Christ.
Pea pod
Because of the delicacy of the blossom and the fruit that is protected in the pod , the pea blossom symbolizes the virgin conception of Christ.
The egg has life in it; it is a symbol of the resurrection.
Pearls embody perfection and purity and therefore stand for Christ in addition to other symbolic meanings.

Interpretation aid

Exilium melancholiae by Bartholomeus Hopfer (after 1643)

The list is not complete. There may be hundreds of other symbols. The decisive factor is the difference between the deceptive sign of immediate sensuality and the indirect religious symbol that has to be interpreted. The analogy does not pretend to be what is meant like the 'flat' figure. The painters of these symbols, like their audience, thought in analogies: Just as salt is necessary for human life, so Christ is necessary for salvation, salt for Christ.

For the vanitas still lifes, the painters made use of the rich fund of contemporary emblematics , on which scholars such as Jacob Cats also wrote books. With every picture a new all sorts of different meanings emerge, which complement, overlap and perhaps contradict each other. This often does not make interpretation easy. The secondary literature, like the paintings themselves, fluctuates between moralizing interpretations, for which the representation seems as unimportant as the motifs depicted, and pride in successful arrangements and the technical perfection of their design.

Not every can has to mean female sexuality. Not everything has to be meant symbolically. It is helpful to collect as many potential symbols as possible and arrange them thematically. If several symbols point in the same direction, for example sexuality (mortar, knife, roses), it is likely that the can is to be interpreted analogously. Possible symbol meanings that are isolated should only be interpreted carefully to protect against overinterpretation.

Despite all the weight of meaning, these images should also and above all be beautiful to look at. As the objects depicted have lost their original purpose, they are given the new purpose of being beautiful. The self-mortification in the desperation of the absence of the living justifies the enjoyment of the things that are at the mercy of the viewer. Immanuel Kant described this modern beauty as “purposefulness without purpose” ( Critique of Judgment , 1790, chap. 23, § 15).

The meaning prevails here, as Walter Benjamin puts it ironically, in that he makes her a mirror image of her viewer, as the “dark sultan in the harem of things”. The fact that the viewer is torn between the search for meaning and 'superficial' enjoyment can be better understood by the fact that many people have not yet been able to read : learning to read is justified by the fact that with its help one can discover a religious truth behind the sensual, deceptive, could decipher objectionable objects. So you don't have to turn away from them, but can turn to them, because as composed 'letters' they are a prerequisite for reading. The unproblematic, routine assignment of the sound to the letter makes the alphabet font attractive because it apparently eliminates the labor of interpretation: Who can read the lemma of the emblem does not need long to puzzle.

Modern change

Portrait of the archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann 1768: the “speaking” moment of writing

There is increasing rebellion against inevitable failure, even if man has not yet overcome death. Nicolas Boileau's interpretation of the pseudo-Longinus ( Traité du sublime, 1674) made it possible to regard the satirist (who he himself was) as a moral authority rather than a fool. Even in paintings before 1700, the skull appears as an attribute and a meaningful study object for the doctor or scientist instead of a memorial. Anatomical representations or the publication of empirical data are often relativized and justified by framing vanitas symbols, but these are increasingly being dropped. By deciphering them, they should no longer be exposed and devalued, but should be given validity.

A similar reinterpretation of the traces or relics of a past can be seen in the beginning archeology , which freed itself from the stigma of necromancy persecuted in the Middle Ages and from the naughtiness of collecting relics . Even the silhouette is in the physiognomy of Johann Kaspar Lavater from mere appearance to revealing nature. Indexical signs are taking on a new status in an emerging natural science that asks about natural causes of effects. The optical illusion is no proof of human error anymore, but can be explained. The unsettling aspects of magic become the calming explanations of the art of magic . Deception is enhanced by explanation.

The boy prodigy Jean-Philippe Baratier wrote a “sermon text on the subject of Vanitas vanitatis” in 1734 in order to both show and justify his talent. While Johann Georg Krünitz still declared in 1786 that the “early cleverness of a child is to be understood as an illness” and must be fought with medication, child prodigies come into fashion at the end of the 18th century .

A grave slab decorated with Vanitas motifs is getting cracks: Tomb of Maria Magdalena Langhans by Johann August Nahl the Elder. Ä. , 1751

The tomb of Maria Magdalena Langhans and her newborn son with its depiction of the hoped-for resurrection of the dead through the blasted grave slab becomes a much admired and reproduced work of art, to which Christoph Martin Wieland (1759), Johann Caspar Lavater (1777) and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1779) make a pilgrimage.

Since the late 18th century, in the course of medical and scientific progress, but also a 'bourgeois' appreciation of money and private law contracts (things that one has in hand, in contrast to the uncertain grace of spiritual and secular authorities) many vanitas motifs transfigured from the null and ephemeral to the important and eternal. "The fact that humans are bad and depraved because of their nature was no longer something the enlightener wanted to say." Since then, the author's justification for the vanity of his work is no longer part of good manners, but he now confidently insists on its validity. Clinging to values, believing in something here and there, sensual, material should no longer be hopeless and lead to loneliness. Avoiding circular reasoning and the vicious circle in the argumentation, which make human failure clear, contributed to the upgrading of the sciences.

The no longer completely hopeless revitalization and the promising search for clues go hand in hand. The doctors and engineers' tips and tricks are no longer just a raffle, and their success is not due to a conspiracy with dark forces. Coping with vanitas by upgrading education is shown in the student song Gaudeamus igitur (1781). - With his satire Rameaus Neffe (from 1760) Denis Diderot dared to counter the official trend towards the appreciation of art and education with triumphant vanitas.

Art removes the appearance and deception of this bad, transitory world from that true content of the appearances, [claims Hegel . There is a "sensual shimmer of the idea" that is not a mere appearance. This creates the idea of ​​a higher art which forms a sensual counterpart to the “Christian conception of truth”. According to this view, art is not fundamentally a deception, but can be a (worldly and sensual) revelation . Friedrich Schiller, for example, with his novel The Criminal From Lost Honor (1786) not only exhibits something reprehensible in order to excuse his own reprehensibility, but also explains a course of events: 'How did the sitter become a criminal?' In this way, the depicted crime is made understandable, which enhances its depiction. The look behind the scenes saves the honor of the alleged criminal as well as that of the writer and his reader.

A cloth breaks the boundary between painting and reality: the dog in front of its master in a self-portrait by William Hogarth (1745)

The declaration frees itself from the accusation of lying, because it reveals instead of concealing. This avoids the morality of the deceived fraudster: This morality includes the artist and viewer in the negativity of the subject by assuming as a self-fulfilling prophecy that their vanity will take revenge. With his comments (1794) on William Hogarth's picture series A Rake's Progress (1733/35), Georg Christoph Lichtenberg replaces the modest justification of the original with a proud declaration.

Instrumental music does not have to meet the demands of imitation to a lesser extent than images and texts. The attempts to convey the emotions of subjects with notated music independently of the objects viewed, without deceiving or asserting the permanence of the ephemeral, acquire special significance in this context, as Ludwig van Beethoven emphasized in the score of his Pastoral Symphony (1808) : “More expression of sensation than painting.” Arthur Schopenhauer explained that music went beyond the mediation of common emotions as a “representation of the will itself” ( Die Welt als Wille und Concept , 1819).

It is no longer the anonymity of the banned viewer in front of the work of art that is emphasized, but the community of art lovers for whom there is cause. The “ identity ” of a common will with regard to success becomes a modern counter-concept of vanitas. Community based on an object or document should no longer be a collective delusion or conspiracy, but on the contrary prove that voluntarily followed models and regulations can endure. In contrast to today, there was greater pressure to provide evidence to the authorities or parents who pointed out with a forefinger that vows of love or business start-ups would not work.

The inability of the work of art to reproduce the living is no longer understood as a mistake, but is praised as a permanent challenge to the imagination of its viewer. Through the idea that a “new language” speaks to everyone here, the work of art seems to become immortal.

This leads to a kind of anti-vanitas: a representation of success instead of failure - or a successful representation that distances itself from a represented failure. Due to its success, the representation connects with or differs from what is represented.

Representation of the success

The artist's vision comes to life: Pygmalion depiction by Jean-Léon Gérôme

That which is fixed and asserted in the image and in writing is transformed from reprehensible to virtuous, just as written legal law gains in importance compared to unwritten customary law or the righteous civil contract is no longer supposed to be a pact with the devil . Jean-Jacques Rousseau was equally active as an artist and as a contract theorist ( On the social contract or principles of constitutional law , 1762).

This revaluation becomes clear, for example, in Rousseau's melodrama Pygmalion (1762/1770), in which a sculptor succeeds in reviving his image without divine help: it is no longer the dead of the statue that is emphasized by the desperation of its creator and viewer, but its imaginary life in his eyes. One experiences the “ aura ” of an object, as Walter Benjamin described this process by giving it the ability to “look up”. The manic repetition of the chisel strike , which Rousseau musically depicts in the overture , is no longer a sign of hopelessness, but rather leads to success. The baroque Theatrum mundi in the form of artfully moved and illuminated miniature theaters, which were shown at the annual fairs, becomes an admired engineering art of animation.

Prominent in this context is the music that changes from a symbol of what is in the blink of an eye to a symbol of “classical” consistency, which is reflected in a repertoire that has never been formed before . Colette's complaint about the loss of her lover in Rousseau's opera Le devin du village (1752) is not unsuccessful, but leads to a happy ending . The rumored message that the French king had sung this melody incessantly legitimized its repetition as a hit song and the decades-long repetition of the opera in the repertoire of the Paris Opera . In Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice (1762/1774), the singer Orpheus succeeds for the first time in bringing his deceased wife to life. The motif of Eurydice experiences a similar development as that of Pygmalion's statue Galathée (Galat [h] ea). Increasingly, "the transience of life is countered by the immortality of love". Tamino's “portrait aria” in Mozart's Magic Flute (1791) no longer sings of the impossible or lost, but of the coming (sensual) relationship. And the musical instrument as a mere substitute for the singing voice begins to 'sing' in the mind of the listener. Mute roles , which can be seen as embodied writing in the melodramas of the boulevard theaters, such as The Orphan and the Murderer (1816), enable the illiterate in the audience to participate in tracing.

Anti-Vanitas: Family Art in the 18th Century ( Jean-Baptiste Lallemand )

In the fine arts, "the painter's empathy with the mute object" begins . There are also numerous examples of this change in literature and theater: For Goethe, the motto “ Et in Arcadia ego ” no longer means nearness to death, but rather the living memory of Italy. In Goethe's poem On Viewing Schiller's Skull (1826), the poet's skull comes to life through its “God-Nature” (or rather through Goethe's contemplation), just as the poem is supposed to come to life when reading.

Johann Faust figures as symbols of the trivial and ridiculous (his study is a collection of vanitas attributes) have been stylized as significant or heroic since Goethe's Faust I. The once ridiculous novel reader Don Quixote , the "classic ideal of the melancholic" in Spanish literature, is made into an idealistic hero in Georg Lukács' theory of the novel . His passion goes from objectionable to a modern virtue. - The 'third' European melancholy, Don Juan , who collects women instead of loving them, however, remains a mostly daunting example.

In all of this, there is a revaluation of the writing from the trace of something irretrievably faded to the model of an eternal ringing in a sociable community. Texts and objects are transformed from the afterimages of someone who has faded into models for someone who sounds. To ensure this, world literature or the musical text of art music would have to be read constantly. They are only apparently silent, because the voices of the viewer are their reality. With ever new readers or interpreters, they triumph over transience. Reading is then no longer a failure, but a success. The “revealed identity” through “speaking stones” becomes, even in the case of tombstones, the counter-conception of an impotent silence.

The so-called Werther Effect following Goethe's successful novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) showed that media products could meanwhile encourage imitation instead of warning. A tomb of the unknown soldier , as Benedict Anderson cites to explain modern nationalism , stands for the living imagination of a community and would be devalued by concrete remains. A warning interpretation ('This will happen to you too if you go to war for this collective imagination') is not intended. The sign as a deadly signal, on the other hand, like the Jolly Roger pirate flag , becomes inconvenient despite its tradition and popularity.

The vanitas representations of the 17th century still present the orphaned book or the faded musical notes as the epitome of the mute. However, in the Dutch still lifes of that time, the value and durability of the depiction began to self-confidently differ from the nullity and transience of the depicted . The artist's pride is hidden behind the superficial modesty. In the 19th century, interest in still life shifted from the “what” of its lifelessness to the “how” of its lively representation and reception.

Triumph over failure

Anna Pavlovna Pavlova as The Dying Swan

The media theorist Régis Debray asks himself where the conception of death as an apotheosis comes from, which makes a “catastrophe appear more like a miracle”. The lament as a collective admission of failure is in the opera of the 19th century to the frenetically applauded death aria. The character of the singer died, but the singer and his audience survived. The dying swan (1907) becomes the celebrated glamorous number of the ballerinas who (in contrast to the older vanitas motifs in flamenco dance) turns into a ridiculous when the interpreter loses her vitality, her technical mastery, similar to the swan depicted. The prerequisite for this is a kind of "vitality that exposes natural death as mere theater play". The reality of death is no longer hidden in the illusory; on the contrary, death is illusory.

Representations of dying or failure since the 18th century, which for example are culturally critical against social or scientific-technical progress , are often associated with a paradoxical triumph by their authors or actors in that they try to defeat the supposed decline with their complaint about it . Clinging to the ephemeral here turns from vice into virtue. The model for this was Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writing Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1750), which made the philosopher famous. The motto ascribed to him “ Back to nature! “In some eyes it was allowed to replace a return to religion and to enhance morally doubtful things. Wolf Lepenies describes this modern type of complaint as follows: "The intellectual complains about the world, and from this complaint emerges utopian thinking that creates a better world and is thus supposed to drive away melancholy ."

With The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–89), the historian Edward Gibbon makes Christianity responsible for the decline of the Roman Empire in order to oppose it with an ideal state of art and culture. The superior talk of decadence is thus decoupled from religious rhetoric, which emphasizes the inadequate and ephemeral nature of all human endeavors.

Roman ruins in Schönbrunn Palace Gardens, depiction around 1780

The “difference between moral intention and aesthetic effect” of traditional vanitas motifs, as emphasized by Giacomo Leopardi at the beginning of the 19th century, cannot be bridged because the attractive depiction now triumphs over the frightening depiction. On the contrary, the sublime seems to turn human impotence into power over the terrible. The false cemetery, for example, replaces the reality of death with its sublime appearance. The Roman ruins (1778) at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna , inspired by Giovanni Battista Piranesi , can be read both as a depiction of vanitas and as a preparation for an early romantic conception of art. Blaise Pascal still considered it a human error ( vanité ) that one could admire in a painting what one did not admire in the original; In 1759 Edmund Burke declared this to be a quality of the picture because it mobilized the taste ( taste ) of all viewers.

The vain beauty with the foot on a skull in the representations of the 16./17. Century was supposed to expose a passing, ridiculous triumph ( hubris ). Representations of failure for the purpose of the triumph of a superman reached their climax in the fin de siècle . Even the divine appears feasible and surmountable in Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung (1876) or Friedrich Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra (1883). In his opera Parsifal (1882), too , Wagner lets music triumph over death by having Titurel live and sing in the grave: "I live in the grave through the grace of the Savior".

The compassionate subordination of representation to what is represented becomes victory over its downfall. In the time of National Socialism, Theodor Adorno spoke of "elevating nothing to something" with reference to Wagner.

Popular culture

Visit to the quack by William Hogarth (c. 1743): attributes of education become vanitas attributes in satire

The message that art cannot be taken seriously (as a violent and hopeless attempt to capture or create life) corresponds to the older vanitas principle against which a high culture has rebelled since the 18th century. Hence, older vanitas traditions that survived in the 19th century established an under-appreciated popular culture . This was stimulated, among other things, by the romantic appreciation of the medieval and the irrational since around 1800. The parallel setting of artist and criminal (although often discussed as in ETA Hoffmann's novella Das Fräulein von Scuderi , 1821) is ostracized as something trivial .

Attempts to overcome vanitas remained fragile in the 19th century, as in Ferdinand Raimund's " Aschenlied " or " Hobellied ". In the Viennese folk comedy , the vicious satires of Johann Nestroy (" Kometenlied ") followed the renewed confirmation of vanitas as a demarcation from an established high culture.

Humorous coping with violence: the sad result of a neglected upbringing (1860) by Wilhelm Busch

The vanitas symbolism itself is often no longer taken seriously, which is understood as a liberation from ecclesiastical and secular tutelage. A development "from sinfulness to the ridiculousness of vanitas", which has been observed since Shakespeare, thus reaches a climax. Melancholy is more openly used as a pretext for complacency and is easier to debunk as such. The Weltschmerz is used for entertainment. Male choirs sing about transience with tearful songs ( 's Mailüfterl , Loreley ). Robert Schumann's piece “im Volkston” Vanitas, vanitatum (1849) for cello should be performed “with humor”, although or precisely because the cello cannot express itself verbally. The ballad justifies the presentation of crimes by warning them of these crimes - even if it only is still Convention and with superior Humor happens ( Sabinchen was a woman , in 1849, Sad result of a neglected education , 1860). In addition to warning, crime fiction also celebrates the exposure of the crime. In horror literature and illustrations or horror novels , the religious background of the vanitas motifs becomes completely a cliché . The still alive statue that don Juan sends to hell only creates a pleasant horror.

Regardless of its original purpose, the tradition of mise en abyme is used as an illusionary technique: properties of representation are turned into properties of what is represented. The mute and lifeless of the writing and the picture become the mute and lifeless of represented figures, which a reader or viewer fills with touching or uncanny life at will, depending on whether this animation is desired or is intended to indicate a loss of control.

Repeated reading is becoming an educational tool in the expanding children's literature . The steadfast tin soldier in the fairy tale of the same name (1838) by Hans Christian Andersen , who can only come to life in the imagination, is not an eerie, but a touching appearance, and the defiant desire to bring him to life promotes the text that makes it come alive contains. The lifeless in the lifeless of the older Vanitas motifs may temporarily become the living in the living.

Theodor von Holst : Illustration (1831) of the Frankenstein novel

Vanitas motifs are always related critically or satirically to current attempts to overcome vanitas. Since Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus (1818), the revival of the dead has been portrayed as something humanly possible but threatening. Edgar Allan Poe's ballad The Conqueror Worm (1843) explicitly refers to baroque vanitas motifs, as does Charles Baudelaire's collection of poems Les Fleurs du Mal (1857–1868), which established a 'modern' aesthetic of the ugly. Perhaps the most popular opera of the 19th century, which warns against delusion in the baroque sense, Giacomo Meyerbeer's Le Prophète (1849), has been erased from cultural memory.

Baudelaire illustration (1866) by Félicien Rops

The continuation of the satirical tradition, as in William Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1848) , was (and is) more respected . Vanitas motifs become an essential characteristic of caricatures such as those of William Hogarth , Thomas Rowlandson , Honoré Daumier and Félicien Rops . The allegory remains as a stylistic device, but takes on something naive or sarcastic .

In entertainment theater, melodramatic music becomes a symbol of the 'poetization' of an inanimate, up to and including film music of the 20th century. It supports the imagination of the audience, i.e. their idea that what is represented is not mute and lifeless. The musically stoked fear of reviving the dead is cultivated in horror films , the comical emotion about its revival is cultivated in animated films (see Mickey Mousing ).

Above all, villains , from the Vice of the Renaissance to the Joker from the Batman comic series , who hold the world against their wickedness and transience and thus justify their own portrayal, are still endowed with vanitas attributes. For the script for the film Münchhausen (1943), Erich Kästner , who was only allowed to carry out this work with special permission from the National Socialists, navigated between portraying his main character as a hero or a fool.

Vanitas since the 20th century

The decadence around 1900 turned with a renewal of vanitas motifs against a bourgeois monument cult or against naturalism in literature and art. Edvard Munch's series of pictures The Scream (1892–1910) thematizes, for example, the lack of sound in the picture. “Post-romantic art” was no longer to be an animated reflection of its viewer, as Rousseau and Hegel had imagined.

"Abstract" forms instead of content: Paul Cézanne's pyramid of skulls

Vanitas and the overcoming of vanitas have also remained present in art since the 20th century: in the still lifes of Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso , the objects do not dissolve through their transience, but through the artist's abstraction , which separates the work of art from the unattainable claim of Imitation liberates - already anticipated without alienation in Paul Cézanne's pyramid of skulls . Andy Warhol , on the other hand, criticized art's claim to value by depicting vain things (which made these works among the most expensive in modern art). Today the artist Damien Hirst achieves top prices with prepared carcasses.

In 1950, a fierce controversy occurred between the Germanists Emil Staiger and the philosopher Martin Heidegger whether the lamp in dinggedicht on a lamp of Eduard Mörike only apparently light. Heidegger tried to emphasize the “truth” of the work of art compared to the technology, which he compared as a “frame” with a “skeleton”.

A modern variant of overcoming vanitas is expressed in the emphasis on the terms presence and event in a humanities movement since the end of the 20th century, which does not focus on the fleeting of the moment, but on the statement that the "presence" versus the Absence of a person depicted will be upgraded.

Reliability of the bill

The changed quality of the vanitas motifs can be explained as follows: on the one hand, the comforting religious certainty of salvation for a large number of viewers no longer applies, on the other hand, the lack of what is depicted is no longer necessarily perceived as a problem (because it is considered successful). With an image of a saint exhibited in a museum , one is not unhappy that the saint no longer develops his authority in this institution, because it depends on the artist and his skills. Or: With many varieties of nostalgia , one is not unhappy that the harsh living conditions of the long-awaited old times are in reality over. The “portrayal of the success” of a good old time and the superior “triumph over failure” of this time are linked here in a paradoxical way. - Only when reading or looking at it, which is in the power of the reader or observer, does what has been read come to life, and this is increasingly understood as an advantage of reconstruction over what has been reconstructed. The portrayed fails with its own claims to power, while the actors succeed in reviving it.

Francis Barraud's picture of the dog Nipper in front of the “voice of his master” from the gramophone funnel is in formal terms a vanitas representation, but it is meant positively: 'It is only an appearance, but it works.' It is no longer the desperation of the lifeless that is emphasized , but the dog's loyalty (which corresponds to the fidelity of the apparatus to sound ). The media scientist Friedrich A. Kittler commented: “Miracles are becoming common.” A will to overcome vanitas is also evident in the optimistic conceptions of artificial intelligence since the 20th century. Here, too, the 'faithful' dependence of machines (as a welcome substitute for unwilling and unruly human labor) can promote the illusion of their coming to life. The aesthetics of the work and the aesthetics of the goods both celebrate the bringing to life of the product, as Thomas Mann and Hans Castorps describe as the partner of a stylized and yet deadly cigar in Der Zauberberg (1924).

All is Vanity by Charles Allan Gilbert , 1892

The reliability of an artificial world takes precedence over the real uncertainties, because their absence is desired: in the world of the detective novel, the criminal's trace is not an appearance, but a reality, but a harmless reality because it promises to pass him through from the protected observer's perspective to arrest the use of procedures. Domination or control are modern promises that were not yet held for early modern humans. The connection between fiction and protective distance becomes even clearer with horror motifs: In the famous picture puzzle All is Vanity (1892) by Charles Allan Gilbert , only the appearance is uncanny, behind which a calming, banal reality is hidden. The fact that the monster in the horror film does not actually rise from the grave is a reassuring certainty that is required for enjoying its representations. The fourth wall , which protects the viewer from attacks, remains in place. A look behind the scenes confirms the unreality of what is depicted, and the reality is replaced by know-how or making-of . The unmoved controllability of the object, be it a book, a picture or an apparatus, is made attractive to its users with fictional material such as the serial offender, the revenant or the merciless revenge. There is an ongoing tradition from popular vanitas to horror film. The horror drama Der Müller und seine Kind (1830) by Ernst Raupach , which was often performed at Allerseelen in the 19th century, became one of the first horror films under the same name in 1911. - Today Halloween is a playful way of dealing with vanitas attributes that is largely separate from the religious.

Disaster scenario

Sinking of the Titanic (1912) by Willy Stöwer

The popular disaster scenario continues the “triumph over failure”, such as the numerous depictions of the sinking of the Titanic . The failure of the portrayed (the ship went down) is contrasted with the success of its portrayal (the picture or the film realized it splendidly), which seems to remedy the catastrophe.

The seriousness of a vanitas symbolism is controversial in many cases. As a cliché, the motive of loss of control remains as a punishment for human arrogance, whereas on the level of representation control triumphs. This corresponds to the traditional moral justification for performance and its success. Disaster films from Sodom and Gomorrah (1922) to Terminator (1984) are more likely to encourage curiosity . The fascinating question: 'How is it done?' distracts from their subject matter. The images of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 temporarily turned the idea of ​​the controlled catastrophe into a medieval vanitas symbolism. The identity when looking at the numerous advertisements of the collapsed buildings gave way to an awareness of anonymous endangerment. Samuel Weber described the illusion of control as a method of discipline: “If you stay a viewer, if you stay where you are, in front of the television, the disasters will always stay outside, always be an 'object' for a 'subject' - this is the implicit promise of the medium. "

The hit novel Das Parfum (1985) by Patrick Süskind , whose hero extracts perfume from murdered women, also follows the horror tradition of vanitas motifs : the book can no more reproduce the scent of the perfume than the perfume preserves the lost life of women can. But both are a challenge to the imagination of the reader or smell who do not have to deal with a living counterpart in order to be able to stick to an ideal that does not have to correspond to reality.

Against his biographical background of an encounter between Hinduism and Christianity and with the stylistic devices of the horror film, the director M. Night Shyamalan designed the theme in the film The Sixth Sense (1999): A little boy learns there that the past can tell him something.

The photographer Bettina Rheims updated the cautionary contrast between alluring sensuality and lifelessness of the image with her project INRI (Berlin 1999). Interpreted as the triumph of fashion over religious images, this concern became somewhat provocative. In his Parsifal production from 2004 in the Bayreuth Festival Hall, director Christoph Schlingensief related a traditional vanitas symbol to Richard Wagner with the projection of a decaying hare.


See also


  • Ingvar Bergström: Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century, Yoseloff, New York 1956.
  • Ferdinand van Ingen: Vanitas and Memento mori in German baroque poetry. Wolters, Groningen 1966.
  • Jan Białostocki: Style and Iconography. Studies in art history (= fundus books. Vol. 18). Verlag der Kunst VEB, Dresden 1966.
  • Alberto Veca: Vanitas. The simbolismo del tempo. Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo 1981, OCLC 13229722 .
  • Philippe Ariès : History of Death (= dtv science. Volume 4407). Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-423-04407-1 .
  • Liana DeGirolami Cheney (Ed.): The Symbolism of Vanitas in the Arts, Literature, and Music. Comparative and Historical Studies. Mellen, Lewiston, NY, et al. a. 1992, ISBN 0-88946-399-9 .
  • Régis Debray: Vie et mort de l'image. Une histoire du regard en occident (= Bibliothèque des idèes.). Gallimard, Paris 1992, ISBN 2-07-072816-1 .
  • John B. Ravenal: Vanitas. Meditations on Life and Death in Contemporary Art. Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA 2000, ISBN 0-917046-55-2 .
  • Mathias Spohr : The problem of vanitas. Goethe's Faust and the Faust subject in popular music theater. In: Mask and Kothurn. Vol. 45, H. 3-4, 2001, ISSN  0025-4606 , pp. 71-91.
  • Christian Kiening : The other self. Figures of death on the threshold of modern times. Fink, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7705-3819-6 .
  • Anne-Marie Charbonneaux (Ed.): Les vanités dans l'art contemporain. Flammarion, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-08-011460-3 .
  • Karine Lanini: Dire la vanité à l'âge classique. Paradoxes d'un discours (= Lumière classique. Vol. 67). Champion, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-7453-1319-3 .
  • Eric S. Christianson: Ecclesiastes Through the Centuries, Blackwell, Oxford 2006. ISBN 978-0-631-22530-0
  • Manfred Kern: Escape from the world. Poetry and the poetics of transience in secular poetry from the 12th to 15th centuries, de Gruyter, Berlin 2009. ISBN 978-3-11-021699-8 .
  • Patrizia Nitti (Ed.): C'est la vie! Vanités de Pompéï à Damien Hirst. Skira Flammarion, Paris 2010, ISBN 978-2-08-123792-6 .
  • Claudia Benthien, Victoria von Flemming (ed.): Vanitas. Reflections on transience in literature, the fine arts and theoretical discourses of the present. in: Paragrana Vol. 27, H. 2, 2018 ISSN  0938-0116

Web links

Commons : Vanitas  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Vanitas  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Ernst Georges: Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary, Hanover 1918 (reprint Darmstadt 1998), Vol. 2, Sp. 3363.
  2. ^ Alain Tapié: Petite archeology du vain et de la destinée. In the S. (Ed.): Les vanités dans la peinture au XVIIe siècle. Méditations sur la richesse, le denouement et la rédemption. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caën 1990, ISBN 2-226-04877-4 , pp. 69-77.
  3. ^ Cf. Christine Schmitz: Das Satirische in Juvenals Satiren , de Gruyter, Berlin 2000. ISBN 978-3-11-016925-6
  4. ^ Philippe Ariès: History of Death. From d. Franz. By Hans-Horst Henschen a . Una peacock. Hanser, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-446-12807-7 , pp. 261f.
  5. Rüdiger Kinsky: Diorthoseis: contributions to the history of Hellenism and the afterlife of Alexander the Great, Saur, Munich 2004, p 67. ISBN 3-598-77735-3
  6. Marco Schöller: Epitaphs in Context , (= The Living and the Dead in Islam. Studies in Arabic Epitaphs , 2), Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2004, p. 317. ISBN 3-447-05083-7
  7. ^ See Agnès Verlet: Les vanités de Chateaubriand. Droz, Geneva 2001, ISBN 978-2-600-00644-6 , p. 61ff. - Review by Hans Peter Lund in: Revue Romane. Volume 38, 2003, Issue 1–2 ( PDF; 117 kB ), pp. 8–10 (French).
  8. Marc-Aeilko Aris : Quid sumit mus? Presence (in) the Eucharist . In: Christian Kiening (Ed.): Medial Presence (= media change - media change - media knowledge. Volume 1). Chronos, Zurich 2007, ISBN 978-3-0340-0873-0 , pp. 179-192.
  9. "Due to the distinction between affirmative and negative propositions customary with some scholastic logicians (e.g. Ockham or Bricot) and the related semantic unequal treatment of the expressions 'false' and 'not true', statements turn out to be of themselves in these cases themselves claim that they express nothing true , even as true . ” Elke Brendel : The truth about the liar. A philosophical and logical analysis of the liar's antinomy. [Diss., Frankfurt (Main), Univ., 1991.] de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1992, ISBN 3-11-013684-8 , p. 10.
  10. ^ Ruedi Imbach : Self-knowledge and dialogue. Aspects of Philosophical Thought in the 12th Century. In: Wolfgang Haubrichs (Ed.): Aspects of the 12th century. Imbach Freising Colloquium 1998 (= Wolfram Studies. Vol. 16). E. Schmidt, Berlin 2000, here p. 19f.
  11. For the interpretation see: Heike Willeke: Ordo and Ethos in the Hortus Deliciarum , Diss. Univ. Hamburg 2003, Vol. 1, pp. 186-197.
  12. Michael Schilling: Foolish storytellers, foolish readers. The fool as an obstetrician of literary autonomy ?, in: Jean Schillinger (Hrsg.): The fool in German literature in the Middle Ages and in the early modern times, Lang. Bern 2009, pp. 47-62, here pp. 49, 59. ISBN 978-3-03911-625-6
  13. Manfred Kern: Weltflucht. Poetry and the poetics of transience in secular poetry of the 12th to 15th centuries. de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-019819-5 , pp. 411f.
  14. ^ Talcott Parsons: The system of modern societies, 7th edition, Juventa, Weinheim 2009, p. 63. ISBN 978-3-7799-0710-7
  15. Andreas Bähr: Fear and fearlessness. Divine violence and self-constitution in the 17th century, V&R, Göttingen 2013, p. 230. ISBN 978-3-8471-0086-7
  16. Alicia Faxon: Some Perspectives on the Transformations of the Dance of Death in Art. In: Liana De Girolami Cheney (ed.): The Symbolism of Vanitas in the Arts, Literature, and Music. Comparative and historical studies. E. Mellen, Lewiston, NY 1992, ISBN 0-88946-399-9 , p. 50.
  17. ^ Michel Foucault: Madness and Society. A history of madness in the age of reason (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbücher Wissenschaft. Vol. 39). From d. Franz. By Ulrich Köppen. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1973, ISBN 3-518-07639-6 , p. 34.
  18. Walter Rehm: European Romdichtung, Max Hueber, Munich 1960, p 87. Jan Białostocki : style and iconography. Studies in art history (= fundus books. Vol. 18). Verlag der Kunst VEB, Dresden 1966, p. 196 [also as: (= dumont pocket books. Bd. 113). DuMont, Cologne 1981, ISBN 3-7701-1349-7 ].
  19. Dietmar Peil: Rhetorical structures in Georg Rollehagens Froschmeuseler? , in: Wolfgang Harms, Jean Marie Valentin (ed.): Medieval models of thinking and writing in German literature of the early modern period, Rodopi, Amsterdam 1993, ISBN 90-5183-346-6 , pp. 197-218, here pp. 217.
  20. Norbert Schneider: Time and Sensuality. On the sociogenesis of the vanitas motif and illusionism, in: Kritische reports, Zeitschrift für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften, 8: 1980, no. 4/5, pp. 8–34.
  21. Karine Lanini: Dire la vanité à l'âge classique: paradoxes d'un discours (= Lumière classique. Vol. 67). H. Champion, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-7453-1319-3 [Diss., University of Paris IV , 2003].
  22. ^ Andreas Gryphius: Complete edition of the German-language works (= reprints of German literary works. NF, vol. 9). Edited by Marian Szyrocki , Hugh Powell. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1963. Vol. 1 Sonnets , pp. 33f. See the modernized version of the original text .
  23. Melanie Obraz draws a parallel between Poussin's version and René Magritte's Ceci n'est pas une pipe : “The connection that exists between the written language and what is painted in the picture is the form of communication that is intended to represent and convey the inalienable feeling ist. “, The silent image and the expressiveness of the recipient in relation to aesthetic and ethical value judgments: Basics for a phenomenologically identifiable philosophy of art , Lit, Münster 2006, p. 257. ISBN 978-3-8258-9736-9
  24. Claudia Benthien: Vanitas, vanitatum, et omnia vanitas: The Baroque Transience Topos and its Structural Relation to Trauma, in: Lynne Tatlock (Ed.): Enduring Loss in Early Modern Germany: Cross Disciplinary Perspectives, Brill, Leiden 2010, p. 51-69. ISBN 978-90-04-18454-1
  25. Walter Benjamin: Origin of the German tragedy. Rowohlt, Berlin 1928. In: Walter Benjamin: Collected writings. Edited by Rolf Tiedemann u. Hermann Schweppenhäuser . Vol. 1. [Abhandlungen] / 1. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1974, p. 143 [1978 2 ].
  26. ^ François Bergot: Le rien du tout. Deux figures de la Vanité: Marie-Madeleine et saint Jérôme. In: Alain Tapié with Jean-Marie Dautel and Philippe Rouillard (eds.): Les vanités dans la peinture au XVIIe siècle. Michel, Caën 1990, pp. 43–54 [also in: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris 1990, ISBN 2-7118-2401-2 , pp. 43–47].
  27. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, Peter Stallybrass: Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture , Cambridge Univ. Press 1996, p. 1. ISBN 978-0-521-45589-3
  28. ^ Clifford Geertz: Deep play - ritual as a cultural performance . In: Andrea Belliger, David J. Krieger (Ed.): Ritualtheorien. An introductory manual, Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1998, pp. 99-118, here p. 115. ISBN 978-3-531-13238-9
  29. ^ Norbert Elias, Eric Dunning: Sport and tension in the process of civilization, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2003. ISBN 978-3-518-58363-0
  30. Cf. Silke Leopold: The Vanitas Idea in Music, in: Time leaps. Research on the Early Modern Age, 1: 1997, pp. 645-669.
  31. For the term game see: Karl Richter: Vanitas und Spiel , in: Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft, 16: 1972, p, 126–144.
  32. See the classification by Ingvar Bergström: Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century. Hacker Art Books, New York 1983, ISBN 0-87817-279-3 (reprint of the first American edition from 1956).
  33. Monika Wagner: From the afterlife of still life in the moving image, in: Bettina Gockel (Ed.): From object to image: Pictorial processes in art and science, 1600–2000, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2011, pp. 245–264. ISBN 978-3-05-005662-3
  34. ^ Ernst H. Gombrich: The still life in European art. On the aesthetics and history of an art genre. In: Ernst H. Gombrich: Meditations on a hobby horse. From the roots and limits of art (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. Vol. 237). Translated by Lisbeth Gombrich. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1978, ISBN 3-518-07837-2 , here: 1988 2 , ISBN 3-518-27837-1 , pp. 171-188, here p. 187.
  35. ^ Ingvar Bergström: Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century , Yoseloff, New York 1956, pp. 154ff.
  36. Cf. Eberhard Ostermann: The fragment: history of an aesthetic idea, Fink, Munich 1991.
  37. Simon Schama : The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. Vintage, New York 1997, ISBN 0-679-78124-2 (German translation: Simon Schama: Abundance and beautiful appearance. On the culture of the Netherlands in the Golden Age. Translated from the English by Elisabeth Nowak. Kindler, Munich 1988, ISBN 3- 463-40096-0 ).
  38. Christian Modehn: Siglo de Oro: The golden century: It wasn't so golden at all. , in: Religionsphilosophischer Salon , Aug. 15, 2016. Accessed on April 18, 2017.
  39. Cf. Günter Bandmann: Melancholie und Musik. Iconographic studies , Springer, Wiesbaden 1960. ISBN 978-3-663-02696-9
  40. Michael Studemund-Halévy : Beyond death. Sephardic funerary art in the old and in the new world, in: John Ziesemer (Hrsg.): Metropolis - Nekropolis. Large city cemeteries of modernity in Europe, Ikomos 53: 2011, pp. 170–179.
  41. Charles Sterling: La Nature Morte de l'antiquité à nos jours, Tisné, Paris 1952, pp. 61-69.
  42. As a whole sentence in consideration of clitics written with the following accents: Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ.
  43. As presented by Jörg Völlnagel: Vanitas vs. optical sensation. On the still lifes by Sebastian Stoskopff (1597–1657) . In: PhiN, Beiheft, 3/2006, p. 38; accessed on June 6, 2017.
  44. The reference to this development comes from Jacques Derrida: He generalizes the beautiful futility of the cut flower to the script and confronts aesthetics with vanitas motifs by saying "le sang / sans / sens de la coupure" ("blood / without / sense of the cut" ) due to the identical French pronunciation. Ders., La vérité en peinture [1978], troisième partie, Flammarion, Paris 2010. ISBN 978-2-08-124829-8
  45. Walter Benjamin: Origin of the German tragedy, in: Ders. Collected writings, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, Hermann Schweppenhauser, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991, vol. 1, p. 360. ISBN 3-518-28531-9
  46. ^ Liana De Girolami Cheney: Dutch Vanitas Paintings. The Skull. In: Liana De Girolami Cheney (Ed.): The Symbolism of Vanitas in the Arts, Literature, and Music. H. Mellen, Lewiston, NY 1992, pp. 132f.
  47. ^ Helmuth Albrecht, Johannes Oehme: The child in the 18th century. Contributions to a social history of the child, Scheffler, Lübeck 1988, p. 118. ISBN 978-3-87302-052-8
  48. ^ Johann Georg Krünitz: Oeconomisch-Technologische Encyclopaedie , Vol. 37, Pauli, Berlin 1786, p. 679.
  49. Etienne Martin: Réduction du monument funéraire de Maria Magdalena Langhans et de son enfant mort-né . In: Bernadette Schnitzler (ed.): Rites de la mort en Alsace : De la préhistoire à la fin du XIXe siècle. Musées de la Ville, Strasbourg 2008, ISBN 978-2-35125-063-1 , pp. 212-218.
  50. ^ Ferdinand von Ingen: Vanitas and Memento mori in German baroque poetry. JB Wolters, Groningen 1966, p. 359 (Diss., Utrecht).
  51. ^ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Lectures on Aesthetics I (= Universal Library. No. 7976 [ II: No. 7984]). Edited by Rüdiger Bubner . Reclam, Stuttgart 1971, ISBN 3-15-007976-4 , p. 47f.
  52. Mathias Spohr: Can an origin be acquired through performance? Vanitas in Italian and identity in German opera. In: Sebastian Werr, Daniel Brandenburg (Hrsg.): The image of Italian opera in Germany (= Forum Musiktheater. Vol. 1). Lit Verlag, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-8279-9 , pp. 177-190.
  53. Michel Butor : Vanité: Conversation dans les Alpes-Maritimes (= Commerce des idées. ). Balland, Paris 1980, ISBN 2-7158-0234-X , pp. 44f.
  54. Systematics according to the following presentation: Mathias Spohr: The paradigm of the performative and the vanitas. In: Kati Röttger (Ed.), With collabor. by Anne Rieger: World - Image - Theater. Vol. 2 Image aesthetics in the stage area. Narr, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8233-6612-6 , pp. 133-141.
  55. Oskar Bärtsch man: recovery by admiration. Pygmalion as a model of art reception, in: Mathias Mayer, Gerhard Neumann (Hrsg.): Pygmalion. The history of myth in occidental culture, Rombach, Freiburg im Breisgau 1997, pp. 226-251.
  56. ^ Walter Benjamin: About some motifs in Baudelaire [1939], in: Ders .: Gesammelte Schriften , Vol. 1, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1974, p. 646.
  57. Kerstin Gernig: Skeleton and skull. For the metonymic representation of the vanitas motif. In: Claudia Benthien, Christoph Wulf (Eds.) Body parts. A cultural anatomy , Rowohlt, Reinbek 2001, ISBN 3-499-55642-1 , pp. 403–422, here p. 415.
  58. Mathias Spohr: Can an origin be acquired through performance? Vanitas in Italian and identity in German opera. In: Sebastian Werr, Daniel Brandenburg (Hrsg.): The image of Italian opera in Germany (= Forum Musiktheater. Vol. 1). Lit Verlag, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-8279-9 , pp. 177–190, here pp. 180f.
  59. Hans-Joachim Raupp (Ed.): Still life and animal pieces. Dutch painting of the 17th century , Lit Verlag, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-2239-7 , p. 26.
  60. Fernando Rodríguez de la Flor: Era melancólica. Figuras del imaginario barroco. Olañeta, Barcelona 2007, ISBN 978-84-9716-414-6 .
  61. ^ Karl Siegfried Guthke: Speaking stones: A cultural history of the grave inscription, Wallstein, Göttingen 2006, p. 18. ISBN 978-3-89244-867-9
  62. Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism , New Edition, Verso, London 2006, pp. 9-10. ISBN 978-1-84467-086-4
  63. “Sometimes it seems as if vanitas has become an irony.” Jan Białostocki : Style and Iconography. Studies in art history. Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1966, pp. 201f.
  64. ^ Günter Brucher: Still life painting from Chardin to Picasso. Dead things come to life, Böhlau, Vienna 2006, p. 63. ISBN 3-205-77401-9
  65. ^ «  D'où vient le paradoxe d'une mort-apothéose, qui aurait plutôt l'allure d'un miracle que d'une catastrophe?  »Régis Debray: Vie et mort de l'image. Une histoire du regard en occident (= Bibliothèque des idèes. ). Gallimard, Paris 1992, ISBN 2-07-072816-1 , p. 259.
  66. Ursula Pellaton: Dancing the dying? Attempt a typology of the danced death scene. In: Mimos (Ed. By Swiss Society for Theater Culture, SGTK. Lang, Intern. Verl. Für Wiss., Bern and others). Vol. 46, 1994, ISSN  0026-4385 , pp. 10-12, here p. 12.
  67. Wolf Lepenies: Melancholy and Society. With a new introduction: The end of utopia and the return of melancholy (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. Vol. 967). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-518-28567-X , p. XXI (Diss., Münster / Westf. 1969).
  68. See Michael G. Kammen: Vanitas and the Historian's Vocation, in: Ders .: Selvages and Biases: The Fabric of History in American Culture, Cornell Univ. Press, New York 1989, pp. 71-103. ISBN 978-0-8014-9404-8
  69. Burkhard Meyer-Sickendiek: Affektpoetik: a cultural history of literary emotions , Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2005, p. 442. ISBN 978-3-8260-3065-9
  70. “Source vanité que la peinture qui attire l'admiration par la ressemblance des choses dont on n'admire point les originaux.” Fragment from the Pensées. ( Memento of March 2, 2010 in the web archive ), accessed on March 27, 2016.
  71. Edmund Burke: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful , New edition, Tourneisen, Basel 1792, Introduction: On Taste, p. 19 f. :.
  72. Nicolas Régnier : Pandora (approx. 1626)
  73. ^ Theodor W. Adorno: Experiment about Wagner [1937/38]. In: Theodor W. Adorno: Gesammelte Schriften. Vol. 13. The musical monographs. Scientific Buchges., Darmstadt 1998, DNB 953202550 (only for members), p. 140 [license from Suhrkamp-Verl., Frankfurt am Main, ISBN 3-518-06511-4 ].
  74. Mathias Spohr: Raimund and Nestroy: The Vanitas Overcomer and the Vanitas Renewer? , in: Nestroyana , 33: 2013, H. 1/2, pp. 22–38.
  75. Lothar Fietz: From the sinfulness to the ridiculousness of vanitas, in: Ders. et al. (Ed.): Semiotics, rhetoric and sociology of laughter: comparative studies on the functional change of laughter from the Middle Ages to the present, de Gruyter, Berlin 1996, pp. 189–202, ISBN 978-3-11-093375-8
  76. On vanitas still lifes in the novel Frankenstein see Alexandra Neel: Still Life in Frankenstein, in: Novel 48: 2015, no. 3, pp. 421–445.
  77. ^ Mathias Spohr: Effect without cause. Richard Wagner quotes Pierre-Joseph Proudhon . In: Thomas Betzwieser (Hrsg.): Bühnenklänge. Ricordi, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-931788-96-2 , pp. 139-145.
  78. ^ Heinrich Detering: Political taboo and political camouflage in Erich Kästner's Münchhausen screenplay (1942) , in: Michael Braun (Ed.): Tabu and Tabu Breach in Literature and Film, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8260- 3341-4 , pp. 55-68, on the subject of vanitas see pp. 59f.
  79. ^ Cf. Jean de Palacio: Le silence du texte. Poétique de la decadence . Peeters, Leuven 2003, ISBN 90-429-1285-5 .
  80. Barbara Vinken: Kitsched Vanitas. Hegel's end of the art period, in: Rolf Niehoff, Rainer Wenrich (eds.): Thinking and learning in pictures, kopaed, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-86736-112-5 , pp. 284–302, here p. 295.
  81. Michael F. Zimmermann: Cézanne and the time of still life, in: Ulla Haselstein (Hrsg.): Allegorie. DFG Symposium 2014, de Gruyter, Berlin 2016, pp. 303–332. ISBN 978-3-11-033365-7
  82. Cf. Loïc Malle: "This is the end", in: Patrizia Nitti (ed.): C'est la vie! Vanités de Pompéi à Damien Hirst, Musée Maillot, Paris 2010, pp. 148–163. ISBN 978-2-08-123792-6
  83. Markus Wild: “Even our correspondence weighed too heavily on the poem.” Staiger and Heidegger on Mörike's “Auf Eine Lampe” , in: Ralf Clausnitzer, Carlos Spoerhase (ed.): Controversies in literary theory / literary theory in the controversy, Lang Bern 2007, pp. 207–222. ISBN 978-3-03911-247-0
  84. Martin Heidegger: Die Technik und die Kehre, Neske, Pfullingen 1962, p. 19.
  85. Erika Fischer-Lichte: Aesthetics of the Performative, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 978-3-518-12373-7 , pp. 255-261.
  86. ^ Mathias Spohr: The paradigm of the performative and the vanitas. In: Kati Röttger (Ed.), With collabor. by Anne Rieger: World - Image - Theater. Vol. 2 Image aesthetics in the stage area. Narr, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8233-6612-6 , p. 138.
  87. ^ Friedrich A. Kittler: Grammophon, Film, Typewriter. Brinkmann & Bose, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-922660-17-7 , p. 9.
  88. Björn Weyand: Poetics of the Brand. Consumer culture and literary processes 1900–2000, de Gruyter, Berlin 2013, p. 130. ISBN 978-3-11-030117-5
  89. ^ Mathias Spohr: The paradigm of the performative and the vanitas. In: Kati Röttger (Ed.), With collabor. by Anne Rieger: World - Image - Theater. Vol. 2 Image aesthetics in the stage area. Narr, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8233-6612-6 , p. 138.
  90. ^ Samuel Weber: Humanitarian Intervention in the Age of Media. On the question of heterogeneous politics , in: Hans-Peter Jäck, Hannelore Pfeil (Ed.): Politiken des Andere, Vol. 1: Interventions in the Age of Media, Hanseatischer Fachverlag für Wirtschaft, Bornheim, Rostock 1995, pp. 5–27, here p. 26.
  91. On vanitas and objectified femininity see Elisabeth Bronfen : Only about my corpse. Death, femininity and aesthetics. German by Thomas Lindquist. Kunstmann, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-88897-079-2 , p. 17 (as a modified new edition in Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 2004, ISBN 3-8260-2806-6 ).
  92. Cf. Barbara Vinken: Kitsched Vanitas: Hegel's End of the Art Period . In: Rolf Niehoff, Rainer Wenrich (eds.): Thinking and learning with pictures. Interdisciplinary approaches to aesthetic education, kopaed, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-86736-112-5 , pp. 284–302, here pp. 287 ff.