Still Life research

During this term we discussed the use of the Golden Ratio in art, also referred to as the Fibonacci Sequence. This mathematical pattern is found throughout nature and is used in art to create balance and harmony within a composition. This technique leads the viewer’s eye to the focal point of the image.



Semiotics & Symbolism

Through semiotics, the symbolic meaning of objects allows an artist to communicate a message to the viewer.

Vanitas is a category of symbolic works of art, associated with still life paintings by Dutch artists of the 16th and 17th centuries which contain a collection of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures.

This paining Memento Mori by Edwaert Collier (c.1640-c.1707) features a skull and bubbles. Commonly, the skull represents death and mortality. The bubbles are a reminder of the brevity of life and suddenness of death.


Books, musical instruments and maps were used as symbols of arts and sciences. These could also be a symbol of wealth and worldliness or a reminder of the worthlessness of worldly goods and pleasures.

This still life painting by a female Dutch artist, Maria Van Ooststerwijck (c.1630-c.1963), features butterflies and a skull. The hourglass is a moralising message of the brief existence of sensory pleasures.

In Christianity the butterfly is a symbol of resurrection. In vanitas art, it is another reminder of the brevity of life. Other symbolic reminders include flowers and rotting fruit.


Contemporary interpretations

Through my research I came across Paulette Tavormina, a fine-art photographer who takes inspiration from the old masters. Her image below is an appropriation of Juan Sanchez Cotan (c.1560-c.1627), Still life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber.


The two images below are from her Vanitas series. I am drawn the clarity of the bubbles and the smoke of the cuddle, both frozen in motion. An extinguished candle reminds the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life.


Memor Patris (Remembering Father)

In preparation for my composition, I selected items which reminded me of my father, and had also been featured in the research of semiotics. I set up different arrangements of the objects at home.

I wanted to use a black background, not only to create depth but through my research I had been drawn to paintings with dark backgrounds which created a dark mood and made the objects stand out.

For the set up, I had one key light to the left of the camera and a reflector to the right. It was a tight space, so anyone present had to stay alert of any trips or hazards.

This was the part of the project that I found most challenging. Partly, because it was dedicated to my father and I wanted to do it justice, and because I didn’t feel I’d spent enough time considering the composition and perspective of the objects and equipment needed. On reflection, I would have liked to of rearranged the set up of the objects and to include more height and colour.

I was enjoyed the use of different lenses supplied by Zig. For this image I used an 18mm prime lens with manual focus on a crop sensor camera (approx 27mm), this challenged me to get the right focus rather than relying on the camera!

After uploading the images, I selected one with a sharp focus which captured the iridescence of the butterfly. There was a lot of black space within the composition which didn’t balance with the arrangement of objects, so I cropped the image to pull them closer together within a tighter frame.

Due to the iridescence of the butterfly, I chose to print on pearl paper. After cropping, I selected this as my final image due to the clarity and balance of the objects.



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