Contextual Studies 1

Harmen Steenwyck — The Vanities of Human Life


(source from : www.nationalgallery.org.uk)

The painting size is in 39x51cm, from 1645, using a genre of painting called Vanitas, which was very popular at the time. It usually contained symbolic items to represent the inevitability of death.

In Harmen Steenwyck’s painting, there are many items on the table, all of them represent a series of things that you cannot take away afterlife. Such as Japanese sword means power and influence, the book at the front means knowledge, and instruments mean art and sexual(especially the flute could be mean penis at that time). All the things mentioned above cannot be kept after people are dead.

On the other hand, the skill and the empty shell can represent death, as the shell do not have any living creature in it, it also reveals that there was life inside, but after a period of time, they vanished. Alike the watch, which is taken down and it cannot operate again, with a meaning that time is limited for life.

For the lamp, where is behind of the skill, there is smoke coming out from the lamp. It reveal that life is fragile, similar to the light on the lamp, a little wind can burn down the fire. Moreover, there is light from above, shinning on to those items, it always symbolised as the God at the time, meaning God is managing everything, included death.

Overall, the whole mainly telling people that they cannot take their wealthy, knowledge and time away after they are dead.


Marcus Harvey — Myra


(source from: https://hscvisualartresources.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/marcus-harvey/)

The person on the painting is Myra. She was a child murderer who was responsible of 5 children death with her boyfriend. She was died in prison during 2002.

Marcus Harvey was using the police photograph of Myra originally and created in 1995. Having multiple copies of children hand prints as art tools, forming this pixel-liked portrait in black and white.

The painting is large, 2.7 by 3.4 m, exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1997. Making such a large face of a criminal as a promotion. During the year, people were upset about the painting being made, as it would remind the horror truth of the victim family. As a result, there were 2 attacks on the painting and it has been being secured.

In my opinion, the reason that it was attacked since people probably got annoyed by the fact that the existence of a murderer, making people remember her as someone important because she committed a vicious crime, not because people being kind and warm. It was like showing the cruel of humanity as an essential thing. However, the painter somehow made the painting as a success. As it was exhibited in a topic of ‘Sensation’ at the Royal Academy, it made people angry about it and attacked, becoming an sensational event. The attacks making it as the consequence of the painting, as a form of art.


Research source: biography.com


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