Analysis of the artworkJan Brueghel il Vecchio

The “Memento Mori”……….and the transience of life in Jan Brueghel the Elder

One aspect that always fascinates when we are faced with the beauty of art is that related to the meanings of allegories.

An allegory gives the sense of what is the reference to an exemplary attitude, is a revisitation of a concept that we may have verified in our existence, or that we have not yet had the opportunity to know, in any case is an ethical/moral signifier that gives space to our consciousness.

Here we have a work that is the allegorical representation of “Vanitas”, a negative human characteristic, which can be substantially linked to the concept of life as a moment of passage for which the nobility of mind is in not letting go with superfluous things.

In general it is the evidence of the “memento mori”, that is, the memory of dying becomes a warning to live an existence in the wake of what really counts, where ethereal and frivolous things are revealed on the outside as inconsistency when they overwhelm our being.

It is important to consider two interesting temporal reverberations, the first is inherent in the artist who represents a pictorial genre typical of northern Europe, a Flemish, therefore a healthy carrier of an aesthetic of detail and the second that the allegorical subjects on vanitas were genre painting that reflected the period of uncertainty at the turn of the “Thirty Years War” among other things also tremendously experienced by the epidemics that developed.

Here art must represent to the rich European bourgeoisie the account of their class consciousness, a habit in any case of self-satisfaction, ultimately a self-referential accent in which the meanings of religious redemption and secular procacity are mixed.

The work of Jan Brueghel the Elder, “La vanità della vita umana” of 1615-1618, is part of the collections of the Galleria Sabauda in Turin and is one of the two painted copies that Vittorio Amedeo I probably bought.

In the work there is the involvement of another great artist, Pieter Paul Rubens.

Jan was part of a family of Flemish painters who in genre painting, a painting economically large scale and made not only on commission, always put a moralistic vision, tendentially for a man faced with a destiny already written.

The representation in the kaleidoscopic unfolding fascinates and attracts the viewer who is amazed by the multiplicity of objects represented, a world confused, but clear in meaning.

A mirror of the consciousness that from individual can and must become social, a chaotic inner container represented in a confused allegory, a private room with a window at the bottom open to the world, who takes note of the vision is called to have attention.

The moment in which we find ourselves in front of this exemplary work becomes an historical and artistic bond and we are brought into the contemporary world through a critical evaluation of what the observer lives in his reality, and therefore art takes its step in immortality. An immortal warning about what is fleeting!

The time we run through is a container of ideas, objects, attitudes, intentions, actions, and a secularized representation, in its aesthetic evaluation, brings us back to consider what really matters, not to be overwhelmed by temptations even if lived.

This work is also very particular because it is a “domestic interior”, a happy intuition that pervades an artist who comes from a naturalistic tradition and inclined to paint landscapes, an essay therefore also appreciated by the late and bourgeois Italian culture that the same artist attended in Milan under the aegis of Cardinal Federico Borromeo.

The symbolism applied in the painting brings many iconographic accents and gives us the curiosity to interpret the figures and look for their meaning, from here you can see that there is a link with mottos and customs handed down from antiquity. We have the peacock, the gold coins, the game, the flame, the bubble, the lascivious woman, and so on, enslaving a whole series of elements that show us what we cannot have afterwards, because in the end life is passing.

Finally, we come to the crucial point that frames the eschatological problem, the most important stamp of the momentary datum, a commission, however, ex voto, religious and personal, evident in the icon that represents Jesus the Redeemer held in hand by a cherub in the lower left. The main way, the truth after death, the otherworldly life can only be Jesus.

Outward beauty, like a fleeting sensual moment, and power, are ephemeral dreams, and applies to all, unconditionally, life has in its fulfillment deeper values on which to focus attention.

“Allegory of the fugacity of life”, Galleria Sabauda – Turin.

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