Back in the XVI and XVII century the Dutch republic became the first affluent country in history. Like most of Europe at the time prior to this explosion in abundance, the Dutch were primary an agricultural society. Agriculture is a seasonal activity, therefore, the spring and summer is the time for abundance while autumn and winter are the times for scarcity. A society that is accustomed to save for lean times will easily associate wealth and abundance with waste.
This, combined with their deep Calvinist religious beliefs, were the factors behind a a particular type of paintings that were called “Vanitas”. These were painting with symbolic objects meant to remind the audience of the transience of life and that therefore it should be lived following God’s laws.
The skulls, hourglasses, extinguished candles, clocks or watches were all symbols of how short our existence is.
Vanitas paintings were popular, Masters like Pieter Claesz and Willem Claesz Heda painted many of these pieces. You can see Vanitas symbols in many other of the Dutch Still Life from the Golden Age, decaying flowers, insects nibbling at fruits or flowers, etc. Below is Pieter Claesz classic, "Brass candlestick, writing materials, letter pocket watch and anemone" (1625) and my own photographic version of it, plus variations of it.
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