Old Fruit in Vanitas

This is a photo taken by Roe Ethridge in 2010. It is entitled “Old Fruit.” In this photo, there is a white bowl fully occupied by rotten peach, bananas, oranges, and strawberries. Outside the bowl, there are a few more fruits such as the two strawberries, eaten by mold, in the front on a wrapper that is placed under the bowl. The wooden background and the wooden table that the bowl is sitting on blend in with each other for their colors and thus brought out the whiteness of the bowl and the redness of the strawberries.

I picked this photo because it reminds me of the vanitas still life paintings done by Dutch artists during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Vanitas is related to the word vanity and to transience. The term refers to the opening verse of Ecclesiastes in the Latin Bible ‘Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas’: vanity of vanities, all is vanity.  Seventeenth-century Dutch paintings often feature symbols of transience, especially still lifes. Skulls, hourglasses, extinguished candles, rotten fruits, and similar elements refer to the evanescence of existence. Vanitas paintings are intended to remind viewer of how short life is and one should take that as a warning and not to waste time in their lives.

Pieter Claesz’s “Vanitas Still Life with Spinaro” is one of my favorite vanitas paintings. This painting consists of a combination of several smaller still lifes. There are a few instruments, which symbolize brevity and the ephemeral nature of life, lying on the floor. Next to the instruments are a piece of armour and various books. On the table, there are more books, a plaster statue, some bones, a wine glass, a watch, a skull, a palette, and some paintbrushes. The skull and the bones symbolize transience of life, the wine glass symbolizes the brevity and suddenness of life, and the watch and fading oil lamp symbolize the passage of time. This piece is not just stunning for its realistic looking but also for the message that the artist was trying to tell the viewer of this painting. He was warning us that death could fall upon us at any moment, and we should cherish every moment in our lives.

Back to Roe Ethridge’s “Old Fruit,” I think it is a modern version of vanitas painting. It is not just a vivid photo of a bunch of rotten fruits, but a message that the artist is trying to send to its viewers. In this modern world, people are consumed by materials and comforts brought by advanced technology. We spend most of times of times to pursue the happiness derived from material goods that we often forget time goes by very quickly.

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