Vanity, our folly

writing in the fall issue of Museum Magazine, the publication of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology, museum director Alex Barker unpacks the subtle but unmistakable messaging encoded in the newly acquired oil-on-wood painting depicted here, a “lush and visually sensuous” work from the Dutch Golden Age.

The painting, rendered in the “Vanitas” form, is attributed to Cornelis Mahu, a Flemish artist who lived from 1613–1689. Mahu’s style follows that of his mentor, Willem Claesz. Heda, a Dutch master who exclusively painted still lives, typically of the “late breakfast” genre.

“One of the most distinctive forms of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting is the Vanitas,” Barker writes. “Named from a passage in Ecclesiastes (‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’), Vanitas paintings are highly symbolic works reminding the viewer that earthly pleasures are fleeting. Vanitas paintings developed as a rich mix of Calvinist doctrines, wealth derived from burgeoning Dutch mercantilism, and from the meticulous realism characteristic of Dutch Golden Age painting.”

The new work, along with the rest of the museum’s collection, can be viewed at the museum’s galleries at Mizzou North, 115 Business Loop 70 West in Columbia. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4:00 pm. Admission is free.

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