Most people think that Vanitas images are “dark”, which; if you have been reading my blog you would know by now that this is not the case. Vanitas paintings were about the existing strict moral code in Calvinist Dutch Republic not about “Goth culture/subculture”.
Vanitas were very popular and many Dutch painters made a living from them. Antoine Steenwick, Peter Claesz, Harmen Steenwyck, David Bailly, Willem Calaesz Heda, Jan Davidsz De Heem and others.
After reading and researching a lot about the Dutch Golden Age, my own take is that Vanitas paintings were popular because the wealthy used them as pre-emptive “show off” pieces. That is, to tell the world about their awareness of the moral decay that can accompany wealth (specially unearned wealth). By hanging one of these pieces in their homes, the wealthy wanted to tell visitors “although I am rich, I follow our moral code (I have God teachings present in my life) and I am aware that wealth is temporary”.
Once you understand this, it is a lot easier to compose images that follow that line of thought. Here are good examples.