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Bernardo Strozzi - Allegory of Vanity

by Alexanda Tuschka

But here a theme has been driven ad absurdum! The mouth of the old one caresses a smile - she likes what she sees. Her two servants play along: they adorn the old woman with feathers and hold the mirror demonstratively in her face. In their faces, nevertheless, no falseness is to be recognized, so that it is difficult to say from what one recognizes that the picture motive was meant caricatured.

Information is provided by the pictorial tradition, some symbols and, of course, the title. Because with the "Allegory of Vanity" the painter plays of course with a familiar motif. If the "vanity" is usually depicted as a beautiful young woman who surrounds and adorns herself with all kinds of luxury goods, here an old woman is chosen. The attachment and the losing oneself in the earthly becomes even clearer for the viewer. The word "vanitas", which means vanity on the one hand and transience on the other, literally means "empty appearance". Through the exaggeration, the desire of the woman here also becomes a pure illusion and thus empty. This work was popular with contemporaries and was readily copied.

A perfume bottle, pearls, a fan and other objects show that the old woman is wealthy and expresses her vanity also in material things. The flowers she holds in her hand have symbolic character and underline the statement of the work. Thus she holds a rose in her hand, on the one hand the most beautiful of flowers, on the other hand a flower that quickly withers and stands for youth that quickly fades. Orange blossoms are common bridal flowers, while the yolk flower is a typical funeral flower. All three are arranged in a triangular composition, with only the rose in the reflection.

Bernardo Strozzi - Allegory of Vanity

Oil on canvas, 1637, 109 x 135 cm, Pushkin Museum in Moscow


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