|Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life|
|Medium||Oil on oak panel|
|Dimensions||39.2 cm× 50.7 cm(15.4 in× 20.0 in)|
|Location||National Gallery, London|
Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life is an oil-on-panel painting by the Dutch Golden Age artist Harmen Steenwijck. Created around 1640, the work is highly allegorical and is painted in the Dutch vanitas style. It has been in the collection of the National Gallery in London since 1888.
Harmen Steenwijck's uncle, David Bailly, is often credited with inventing the artistic genre of vanitas , focusing on the transience of life. Bailly taught Steenwijck and his brother Pieter to paint in the Dutch city of Leiden. Steenwijck completed Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life around 1640; the painting is signed but undated,  as was his practice. 
In 1888, the painting was presented to the National Gallery in London by Lord Savile.  Radiographic analysis of the work revealed that Steenwijck had originally included a bust of a man crowned with a wreath, which he painted over. 
The work is a still life in the genre of vanitas , painted with oils on oak panel, and measuring 39.2 by 50.7 cm (15.4 by 20.0 in).  Like most vanitas paintings, it contains deep religious overtones and was created to both remind viewers of their mortality (a memento mori ) and to indicate the transient nature of material objects.  The skull is the most obvious reminder of human mortality, which is also alluded to by delicate items such as the paper and the shell.  
The painting includes a skull with missing teeth, almost falling off of the table. A frayed rope passes through the handles of a large pot. The face of the pot contains an image of a man's face. Several pieces are arranged so that they rest uncomfortably close to the edge of the table. An ornate Japanese sword, a sea shell, and a lute also feature in the image. The left side of the painting is essentially blank, with only a shaft of light cutting through the space.  There is also a book, a watch and the front of a trumpet or horn. 
Religion is a central allegorical theme in the painting. In the 2016 book Art and Music in the Early Modern Period, Katherine A. McIver wrote: "The image presents a "jumble of exquisite possessions ... abandoned hollow things ... receiving temporary luster from a higher source." The "higher source" is represented by a ray of sunlight that cuts directly to the right side of the skull in the painting. 
In 2011 Elena Tuparevska of the University of Deusto wrote a paper entitled "Teaching the concepts of carpe diem and memento mori".  In the paper she stated that the painting symbolizes knowledge; she also said, the sword and shell are rare and therefore they symbolize wealth. The lamp and watch symbolize the mortality of human life. 
In 2001, the authors of Vermeer and the Delft School critiqued the painting by saying that the surface textures of the objects are contrasting and the light is harsh.  In the 2014 the book titled, 1000 paintings of genius the authors have included this painting as number 354. 
Vanity is the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others. Prior to the 14th century, it did not have such narcissistic undertones, and merely meant futility. The related term vainglory is now often seen as an archaic synonym for vanity, but originally meant considering one's own capabilities and that God's help was not needed, i.e. unjustified boasting; although glory is now seen as having a predominantly positive meaning, the Latin term from which it derives, gloria, roughly means boasting, and was often used as a negative criticism.
Vanitas is a genre of art which uses symbolism to show the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death. The paintings involved Still life imagery of transitory items. The genre began in the 16th century and continued into the 17th century. Vanitas art is a type of allegorical art representing a higher ideal.
Memento mori is an artistic or symbolic trope acting as a reminder of the inevitability of death. The concept has its roots in the philosophers of classical antiquity and Christianity, and appeared in funerary art and architecture from the medieval period onwards.
Carpe diem is a Latin aphorism, usually translated "seize the day", taken from book 1 of the Roman poet Horace's work Odes.
The Ambassadors is a 1533 painting by Hans Holbein the Younger. Also known as Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, after the two people it portrays, it was created in the Tudor period, in the same year Elizabeth I was born. Franny Moyle speculates that Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, then Queen of England, might have commissioned the painting as a gift for Jean de Dinteville, the ambassador portrayed on the left in the painting. As well as being a double portrait, the painting contains a still life of several meticulously rendered objects, the meaning of which is the cause of much debate. It also incorporates one of the best-known examples of anamorphosis in painting. The Ambassadors has been part of London's National Gallery collection since its purchase in 1890.
Charles Allan Gilbert, better known as C. Allan Gilbert, was a prominent American illustrator. He is especially remembered for a widely published drawing titled All Is Vanity. The drawing employs a double image in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror of her vanity table, when viewed from a distance, appears to be a human skull. The title is also a pun, as this type of dressing-table is also known as a vanity. The phrase "All is vanity" comes from Ecclesiastes 1:2 It refers to the vanity and pride of humans. In art, vanity has long been represented as a woman preoccupied with her beauty. And art that contains a human skull as a focal point is called a memento mori, a work that reminds people of their mortality.
Maria van Oosterwijck, also spelled Oosterwyck, (1630–1693) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, specializing in richly detailed flower paintings and other still lifes.
A Lady Writing a Letter is an oil on canvas painting attributed to 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is believed to have been completed by artist during his mature phase, in the mid-to-late 1660s. The work is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Nicolaes van Verendael or Nicolaes van Veerendael was a Flemish painter active in Antwerp who is mainly known for his flower paintings and vanitas still lifes. He was a frequent collaborator of other Antwerp artists to whose compositions he added the still life elements. He also painted a number of singeries, i.e, scenes with monkeys dressed and acting as humans.
Harmen Steenwijck or Harmen Steenwyck was a Dutch Golden Age painter who specialised in still life painting, especially in the style of Dutch vanitas.
Hendrick Andriessen, known as Mancken Heyn was a Flemish still-life painter. He is known for his vanitas still lifes, which are made up of objects referencing the precariousness of life, and 'smoker' still lifes, which depict smoking utensils. The artist worked in Antwerp and likely also in the Dutch Republic.
Joris van Son or Georg van Son was a Flemish still life painter who worked in a number of sub-genres but is principally known for his still lifes of fruit. He also painted flowers, banquets, vanitas still lifes and pronkstillevens. He is known to have painted fish still lifes representing the Four Elements, and also collaborated with figure artists on 'garland paintings', which typically represent a devotional image framed by a fruit or flower garland.
Cornelis van der Meulen or Cornelis Vermeulen, was a Dutch painter who after training in the Dutch Republic had a career in Sweden where he became a court painter. He is known for still lifes of flowers and game, trompe-l'œil and vanitas still lifes, topographical views and portraits.
Skull symbolism is the attachment of symbolic meaning to the human skull. The most common symbolic use of the skull is as a representation of death, mortality and the unachievable nature of immortality.
Franciscus Gijsbrechts, was a Flemish painter of still lifes specialised in vanitas still lifes and trompe-l'œil paintings. He worked in the second half of the seventeenth century in the Spanish Netherlands, Denmark and the Dutch Republic. Like his father, he painted trompe-l'œil still lifes, a still life genre that uses illusionistic means to create the appearance that the painted, two-dimensional composition is actually a three-dimensional, real object.
Pieter Steenwijck, was a Dutch Golden Age painter.
Frans van Everbroeck was a Flemish still life painter who is known for his fruit still lifes, vanitas still lifes and pronkstillevens. He was active in Antwerp, Amsterdam and London. The Dutch painters Abraham Mignon and Maria van Oosterwyck are regarded as his followers.
Godfriedt van Bochoutt (fl 1659–1666 was a Flemish still painter who was active in his native Bruges and Rotterdam. The limited body of work attributed to him ranges from fruit still lifes, hunting still lifes, vanitas still lifes and trompe l'oeil paintings.
Carel Fonteyn or Carel Fontyn was a Flemish painter active in Antwerp. He is known for his Vanitas still lifes with flowers, skulls and other Vanitas symbols.
Still Life with Books is a c. 1627–1628 oil-on-panel painting by Dutch artist Jan Lievens. The painting is an example of the Dutch vanitas genre. For many years experts thought it was the work of Rembrandt. The painting privately owned until it was purchased by the Rijksmuseum in 1963.