“In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic still life painting commonly executed by Northern European painters in Flanders and the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The term vanitas itself refers to the arts, learning and time. The word is Latin, meaning “emptiness” and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2 from the Bible is often quoted in conjunction with this term. The Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible) renders the verse as Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas. The verse is translated as Vanity of vanities; all is vanity by the King James Version of the Bible, and Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless by the New International Version of the Bible.
Paintings executed in the vanitas style are meant as a reminder of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, encouraging a sombre world view.
Common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death; rotten fruit, which symbolizes decay like ageing; bubbles, which symbolize the brevity of life and suddenness of death; smoke, watches, and hourglasses, which symbolize the brevity of life; and musical instruments, which symbolize brevity and the ephemeral nature of life.”