Part of my practice is to redesign my vanitas altar according to seasonal themes. Marking the 2021 Spring Equinox, I’ve replaced the skull’s Autumnal caplet of leaves with a caplet of dried flowers and added a peacock feather, which was both an element of some vanitas paintings of the 1700s and, in Western superstition, a … Read moreSpring Equinox Vanitas Altar
My Midwinter altar – I think “locus” is actually more apt in this context – is a literal illumination of the vanitas theme, a union of wunderkammer and kamidana (wunderkamidana?) It’s an assemblage of objects whose symbolic meanings are both amplified and made more subtle by their interrelationships. I try my clumsy best to make … Read moreMidwinter Solstice and the Notion of Genius Loci
By Tony Wolf Beginning about thirty years ago, increasingly since my father died in mid-2016 and with great intensity since the start of this year, I’ve been developing an embodied philosophical approach to – and “poetic faith” in -the reality of death and its implications for living meaningful lives. It draws inspiration from aspects of … Read moreMy Way of Life and Death
There was a wind blowing through the zeitgeist of the 1970s, here elegized in the classic folk-rock ballad by Kansas.
English poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) writes of the “second death”: II heard a small sad sound,And stood awhile among the tombs around:“Wherefore, old friends,” said I, “are you distrest,Now, screened from life’s unrest?” II—”O not at being here;But that our future second death is near;When, with the living, memory of us numbs,And blank oblivion comes! … Read more“The To-Be-Forgotten” (1899)
Here’s an excerpt from Stefania Spano’s essay for Hektoen International: A Journal of Medical Humanities on the theme of dark humor in memento mori art: Ruysch’s artistry was matched by his commitment to the underlying science and to using the materials of the dead to teach the living. “I do this,” he explained, “to take … Read more“Laughing in the Face of Death: Ruysch, Dark Humor & Subversion of the Memento Mori in Anatomical Art”
By Tony Wolf During late January of 2020 I returned to snowy Chicago from a three-week long vacation and family reunion in sunny New Zealand. During the trip we’d celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday with a surprise party and also received the devastating news of a death in the American branch of the family. At … Read moreThe Vanitas Altar: Remembering Death and Seizing the Day
In a nutshell … A seminal scene from The Dead Poets Society, in which the extraordinary Robin Williams as the extraordinary John Keating imparts the first of many lessons in unorthodoxy, recalling the finitude of life and seizing the day.
Minister, chaplain and essayist Lynn Casteel Harper’s article for the Paris Review compares the earliest known Dutch vanitas painting – Jacques de Gheyn’s Vanitas Still Life – with her own perspective on the condition of dementia: Wisdom here comes lodged in apposition—pairs of apparent opposites, united by the word and: “a time to be born, and a … Read more“Still Life”