Vanitas Still Life

Image credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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This is the only example of still-life painting in the National Maritime Museum's collections. Believed to have been painted in 1694, a year after Edwaert Collier (c.1640/1–1708) arrived in London, the piece is one of comparatively few vanitas works he produced for the English market. Vanitas paintings were so-called because of their association with the book of Ecclesiastes and the oft-quoted lines ‘Vanity of vanities, said the teacher, all is vanity’. Collier incorporates the Latin ‘Vanitas Vanitatum Omnia Vanitas’ [Vanity, vanity, all is vanity] into the composition. At a time when daily life was only a preparation for death and the transition of the soul to either heaven or hell, the message of the painting was clear. Those attributes valued by humans in their terrestrial existence, wealth, pleasure, power, knowledge, were mere vanity and had no significance in the face of eternity.

National Maritime Museum



Vanitas Still Life




oil on canvas


H 75.3 x W 62.9 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

purchased with the assistance of the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund

Work type



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