Life, Death, and Time

Life, Death, and Time


Life, Death & Time 

This work is my version of Philippe de Champaigne's Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull, and Hourglass, (c. 1671)


About Philippe de Champaigne:


Philippe de Champaigne was a French Baroque painter known for his religious and portrait paintings. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, but spent most of his career in Paris, France, as the preeminent French portrait painter during the reign of Louis XIII. He earned royal patronage from both the King and Cardinal Richelieu. The collection of portraits he created during that time demonstrates his enduring artistic legacy.

Born into a poor family in Brussels, Champaigne’s journey began as a student under Jacques Fouquières, an esteemed landscape painter. In 1621, he made his way to Paris. There, in the bustling city, he found himself collaborating with Nicolas Poussin, as they dedicated their brushes to adorning the Palais du Luxembourg under the watchful eye of Nicolas Duchesne. Champaigne eventually married Duchesne’s daughter.

He went on to serve illustrious figures such as the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici, and the influential Cardinal Richelieu. The cardinal entrusted him with adorning his opulent palace and embellishing the Dome of the Sorbonne church, immortalizing Champaigne’s touch upon the architectural fabric of the era. A triple-portrait painting of the cardinal was created in 1642, and is one of the most unusual (and one of my favorite!) portraits I have seen of a religious figure. His artistic prowess gained further recognition, and in 1648, he became a founding member of the esteemed Académie Royale de Peinture.


Around 1640, Champaigne’s work began to be deeply influenced by his religious beliefs and association with Jansenism, a reform movement within Catholicism.

He created one of his most celebrated, yet atypical masterpieces (Ex-Voto de 1662) In a testament to the profound moment when his paralyzed daughter experienced an alleged miraculous recovery within the walls of the nunnery of Port-Royal. The painting captures his daughter alongside Mother Superior Catherine-Agnès Arnauld, encapsulating the intertwining threads of faith, gratitude, and tender familial love. It is now enshrined within the hallowed halls of the Louvre.


Though initially his work was influenced by the richness of Rubens' artistry, Champaigne’s style evolved with the years and became iconic. He often portrayed religious figures with great detail and emotion, emphasizing their spiritual depth and humanity. His portraits were characterized by their psychological insight and realism, capturing the essence of his subjects.

However, it seemed he became imbued with a certain austerity and introspection towards the end of his life. In an interesting addition to his religious subjects, Champaigne created his painting, Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull, and Hourglass, just a few years before his death at age 72. In this work, Champaigne presents a symbolic arrangement of three objects that convey the theme of mortality and the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures, as is the typical subject matter in this genre.


About Philippe de Champaigne's Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull, and Hourglass (c. 1671)

At the left of the composition is a tulip, a popular flower during the 17th century that symbolizes beauty and prosperity. The tulip suggests the transitory nature of physical attractiveness and the passage of time.

Adjacent to the tulip is a skull, a classic symbol of death and mortality. It represents the inevitability of our eventual demise and serves as a memento mori, urging viewers to contemplate the impermanence of life and the futility of worldly pursuits.

Champaigne includes an hourglass in the composition to further emphasize the passage of time. The hourglass, with its sand trickling down, serves as a reminder that life is ephemeral, and every passing moment brings us closer to our ultimate fate.

These objects' close-up arrangement and minimalist presentation in the painting boldly confronts viewers. Not inviting but demanding that viewers reflect on the deeper meaning of existence, shift their focus from worldly pursuits to more profound spiritual contemplation, and recognize the ephemeral nature of life's pleasures in the face of inevitable mortality.

Champaigne's meticulous attention to detail, use of chiaroscuro, and ability to evoke immediate contemplation make this work a powerful representation of the vanitas genre.


About “Life, Death, & Time”

I love the composition and emotion in Phillipe de Champaigne’s pieces, though the vanitas painting is very arresting, and a grand departure from his earlier works. It was painted at the end of his life, so I believe he was likely grappling with his age and facing regrets about his life. This painting is his visual advice to the rest of us that what he is facing will come for us all.

I respect and honor his work and intentions; however, I have always used the concept of memento mori & vanitas to heal from grief or to contemplate one’s existence positively, with no repenting or guilt intended.

I took the original work’s symbols and decided to forego the stark presentation, to transform it into something softer and more understanding. I added and moved objects around to fit within my lush and chaotic visual language, and convey a completely different feeling.

As in Champaigne’s work, the central element of my composition is the skull, a classic symbol of mortality. Here, it peers through an hourglass. Looking through time, waiting for the place to appear when the last grain falls. The soft, reverential song of time is only the sound of sand, flowing steadily through the opening until there’s nothing left. When the sand is still, we will only hear the quiet footfalls of a somber, inevitable friend waiting to pick us up when the party's over— whether we want to go home or not.

The skull is significant, but the flowers have overtaken it as the most prominent symbol in my piece. Growing around the skull, filling the spaces of fear and grief, fighting against the pockets of darkness surrounding it. A comforting, loving embrace.

I chose to make the most pervasive symbol one of life. Using a soft, Venusian palette of pinks and purples that usually speaks to romance and beauty, with the splendor of spring blooms. The flowers represent the fleeting, but beautiful spectacle of our human lives. Redolent and vibrant. Though much like a flower, we begin to decay the second we breathe our first breath, our lives are more significant than our deaths. We have to bloom and grow with an inescapable end looming in the future. This is a reminder — not to eschew the world's vanities, but to show our beautiful and unique colors before they fade. Life is precious, delicate, and beautiful, and should be celebrated with each passing minute.

The candles are the fourth and final symbol, not present in the original. Candles are a representation of all three of these: - Life, Death, and Time. An unlit candle represents a new life about to be struck into light. A candle burning, the short, but bright lifespan of a human. When the candle burns down and the light gutters out, death takes hold. The smoke fades into nothing, and our old friend Death guides us into the great beyond. Here I chose to keep them lit, as a beacon of love and warmth. An invitation to shine your brightest, at this very moment.

Note: I created this still life in collaboration with Graveyard Wanders - who created and provided the candles in the perfect color.  


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