Artist Carlo Russo explains his recent Vanitas still life painting, which is on view in his solo exhibition at Sloane Merrill Gallery in Boston, MA through January 12, 2024.
My Vanitas Still Life
by Carlo Russo
The Vanitas genre of still life painting developed in 16th-century Europe and flourished during the Golden Age of Dutch Painting in 17th-century Holland. These paintings were filled with an array of objects and rich symbolism to remind viewers of the transient and temporary nature of life and the vain pursuit of material riches. Ultimately they served as a lesson on one’s mortality and a reminder for one to lead a worthy life. Many of the objects found in Vanitas still life paintings relate to areas such as arts, science, wealth, earthly vices, and objects which were symbolic of death and transience.
For my composition, I chose a number of objects which have a long history in Vanitas pictures. The skull is an obvious and powerful symbol of mortality while books represent science or man’s quest for knowledge. Also depicted are symbols of vice and earthly pleasures, such as the playing card, dice, and the overturned glass. The lute pays homage to the musical arts while the tulip symbolizes transience as its beauty is fleeting and temporary.
I want to bring your attention back to the tulip. When Vanitas paintings had reached their pinnacle in 17th-century Holland, the tulip was considered a sign of great wealth, like the finest jewelry. This specimen is called a Zomershoon and dates to 1620s Holland. So while also being a transient object it symbolizes wealth and additionally it serves as a symbolic bridge between 17th-century Holland and now. It’s the last known existing line of tulips that dates back to the Dutch Golden Age. This 400-year-old line that dates back to the time of Rembrandt and many of the great Dutch Masters bloomed in my garden this past spring after I planted the bulb the previous autumn. It was thrilling to be able to add this piece of living history to my work.
See more of Carlo Russo’s work at Sloane Merrill Gallery in Boston, MA, during his solo exhibition, December 1 through January 12, 2024.
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