The Cycle Continues, Vanitas, Aging and the Inevitable

Perhaps it is merely a symptom of my summer holiday nearing to its close.

The Spouse and I spent several halcyon days in San Francisco , our daily anxieties pushed aside. But we have now returned to our regular concerns.

Upon this return,  I have been re-experiencing a bit of depression ; it might be a symptom of my own aging ( I recently turned one year shy of five decades). When I see myself in the mirror, it causes me pause. This reflection causes me to look more deeply at my situation. I attempt to avoid morbidity ( as natural an inclination as that may be for me) but one cannot escape the sand slipping through hourglass. This is a fact that I am becoming increasingly more aware of. The fortunate effect of this awareness  is that  I am now struggling with my own authenticity more aggressively. The notion of Vanitas, not merely personal admiration, but the silly distractions that seems to rear up time and again, is of pressing interest .

I am actively trying to recognize the temptation of such follies when they cross my daily path, with that in mind, my attention turns to Hans Baldung -Grien. I can think of few artists who explored the notion of Vanitas more thoroughly. I have taken impish delight in his menacing skeletal Deaths cavorting with oblivious Maidens for years; but  I am now  looking more closely. I have actually never seen a Baldung in the flesh (so to speak), only from illustrations; but even from such inferior sources I am aware of the richness of his understanding. This former apprentice of the great Dürer seems to have captured the universal struggles of Man: the conflict between  fragile beauty and pleasure and  the inflexible wall of eternity, our own  brief moment, and what we must do with it.

Baldung captured the gravitas and left room for a smile.

 Hans Baldung Grien



Death and the Maiden


oil on limewood

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

I particularly admire the theThree Ages being depicted in one panel, her infant self toying innocently with the veil (of Life?), her lovely Maiden self deeply absorbed in her  own beauty, how can one blame her?, her middle- aged, sobered Crone  rushing froward to fend away Death.

I find myself more and more identifying with the sobered Crone.

Death and the Maiden


oil on panel

 Öffentliche Kunstsammluna, Basel

Our fair Maiden seems to have lost the battle.

Three Ages of Man


oil on panel

Museo del Prado

I find the landscape of particular interest, the owl such a curious figure.

One of my own paintings has been accepted in a juried show; in order to avoid further Vanitas it is worth noting that the show is in Glendale California at the Brand Library and Art Gallery.

Glendale is perhaps best remembered as the provincial  backwater that drove dear Veda to distraction (and murder?) in the marvelous Mildred Pierce.

That said I am of course pleased.

The painting is my own modest exploration of Vanitas, it is about two years old; at the time I was a bit intrigued with LA’s Low-Brow movement, that interest has passed, but the painting lingers, a testament to Vanitas on multiple levels. 

by the author

 Nod to Aubrey


acrylic and canvas, gold leaf

 As the title suggests, the painting it is my own play on the great Aubrey Beardsley and his fascinating depictions of fetus. They have captured my imagination for years and I wished to explore the theme myself. It of course was natural/predictable to include a Death figure.

By the great A.B of course , marvelous, creepy fetus and an odd-ball assortment of fiends.

I will close with a few more images of Baldung, he not only depicted the Three Ages with much understanding, he tackled the Fall of Man time and again. What I found so interesting with the following image is that instead of poor beleaguered Eve being depicted as the Eternal Temptress once again, Adam seems to be the culprit to our Downfall. He is at the very least a lascivious accomplice. 

Adam and Eve


oil on panel

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

I will close with one last image, a detail from another Adam and Eve (1524), because he is quite a fetching Adam.

I refuse to resist Vanitas completely!

Adam and Eve , detail of Adam


oil on panel

Szépmûvészeti Museum, Budapest

I appreciate your indulgence i f I tended towards the maudlin.

Until next time, I wish you well,

Babylon Baroque

18 Responses to “The Cycle Continues, Vanitas, Aging and the Inevitable”

  1. I miss you. This is a marvelous piece of writing. I can hear your voice (and your laughter). peas…

  2. carla fox Says:

    Very interesting. My take on the veil (in the first image) is the veil of youth and beauty that slips ever slowly, until, at the end, falls completely away to reveal the inner self, sans vanitas. But that’s just my impression, anyway.

    Congrats on the show!

  3. Mark Pirolo Says:

    This comment is actually related to your June 3rd post on pugs. I too love the breed. I have a little imp of a pug named Luciano. The two Victorian paintings which feature pugs and that you were looking for information on are by James Jaques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902.

  4. I’m a decade ahead of you Leonard, and can say that vanity has not yet become a stranger to me. It’s a different type of vanity of course. We have to make adjustments, try to put the things of the past aside and invent new, more appropriate ways of presenting ourselves to the world. Moreover the whole thing takes a damned sight longer too. I’ve never spent this much time in the bathroom since I was an angst-ridden teenager!

    But age brings other stuff that should be enjoyed, such as the skills we’ve refined over time, and the way that we’re more at ease in the world. I don’t think it’s possible to be all things at one time. I don’t think it’s possible to have everything. Life is in balance. We gain and relinquish. That’s the way it needs to be. Try not to be sad. The mirror is not the only truth. In fact, far from it. Besides, if you don’t like what the looking-glass shows, then the answer is simple. Get another looking-glass, a nice antique one with soft reflections that are more forgiving! (-;

  5. babylonbaroque Says:

    Hello Clive,
    I cringed a bit when I realized how shallow my post could be perceived. Although physical decline is of course an issue, I have been feeling increasingly more aware of the need to make the best use of my given time/skills/abilities.
    I really love your comment ‘we gain and relinquish”, i relinquish poorly I’m afraid.
    I am trying to gather the skills and assets that I have gained in order to better face my future. If I was socially odd as a youth, I now feel confusion as to how best explore gifts or talents i may possess, and of course recognize the incredible limitations of those assets. That limitation is what is causing me such pain.
    I can handle the faded shell, but do I have something of significance within?, that is my crisis, my vanitas.
    As per mirrors, i long ago banished mirrors created before 1880, patchy silvered glass has long been my secret to glamor.
    Always a treat to hear from you, loving the new work btw.
    Until next time,

    • Oh, honey, I can relate to what you’ve expressed. I’m on the other side of fifty now, and am not too thrilled about it. My midlife crisis started over a decade ago and shows no sign of letting up! But one continues paring away that which is no longer necessary, that which no longer serves, and hopefully age’s refining fire will reveal the gold amidst the dross. Or something like that.

      • babylonbaroque Says:

        I appreciate your words, reflection prompts the paring away, I keep whittling looking for the gold.
        I think this existential angst is appropriate, but it does often make even the simplest of decisions seem so dire: go to the gym? head to the studio? …
        As always tickled to hear from you,

  6. All Hail Thom the Great. Heed his words and you will prosper!

    (Seriously, the man has it down pat. Thom packages his hard-won wisdom in a tone of deceptively modish ennui, but what underlies the throw-away delivery is pure gold!)

  7. I find as I get older a certain amount of disconnectedness creeping in. With the afterlife increasingly ‘just around the corner’ so much of our contemporary obsessions seem irrelevant and tiresome.

    Although increasing age can make you feel vulnerable and ‘mortal’ as it never seemed to when young, there is a measure of compensation, being able to prioritise your life, adjusting what works and what never has, saying that life is too short to do that anymore, but I wouldn’t mind having a go at that before I pop off.

    Having said that, looking in the mirror doesn’t get any easier.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Without sounding terribly trite (which i may very well be), the advantage of age is acquiring such thoughtful friends.
      I count you amongst that group,

  8. I really enjoyed reading this blog entry! I’m researching for a paper on women and death in Renaissance Art and found this to be very insightful, with a wonderful selection of images, and my favorite part– your strong voice and genuine character.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Oh I am pleased
      . Fascinating images, I turn to Death and the Maiden time and again in my own work. but I find myself switching the maiden to a youth. When I depict the maiden there is often too disturbing an element, I need to explore that psychologically before I put it to canvas.
      I enjoyed your site, most particularly your hybrid beasts.
      I like the humanist approach you are taking, i am myself involve with a lengthy paper concerning humanism; i am comparing Machiavelli & Castiglione, centering my argument around Donatello’s David.
      I will post snippets after i have submitted it this week.
      Please pop in again, you should search my site for Artemsia Gentileschi, if you are approaching women in the Renaissance, she is of course quite fascinating.
      Thank you and take care,

  9. Oh, why thank you so much. I will certainly be checking out your blog more often, and I adore Artemisia! Take care~

    Always a friend in Art,

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