Definition of vanitas in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈvanɪtɑːs/


A still-life painting of a 17th-century Dutch genre containing symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability.
Example sentences
  • A classic vanitas, the painting reminds us that time and its consequences cannot be slowed.
  • Candles, half-empty vases and clocks suggest the passing of time, which, in traditional vanitas paintings, can refer to both the transience of life and the speed with which death can make its claim.
  • The human skull is familiar from the tradition of vanitas paintings where it serves to indicate the futility of human aspirations by stressing the ephemerality of human life.


Latin, literally 'vanity, futility'.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: vani|tas

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.