Vanity


Vanity

In conventional parlance, vanity is the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others. In many religions vanity is considered a form of self-idolatry, in which one rejects God for the sake of one's own image, and thereby becomes divorced from the graces of God. The stories of Lucifer and Narcissus (who gave us the term narcissism), and others, attend to a pernicious aspect of vanity.

Philosophically-speaking, vanity may refer to a broader sense of egoism and pride. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that "vanity is the fear of appearing original: it is thus a lack of pride, but not necessarily a lack of originality." [http://www.bartleby.com/66/51/41651.html] One of Mason Cooley's aphorisms is "Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful." [http://www.bartleby.com/66/44/14144.html]

In early Christian teachings vanity is considered an example of pride, one of the seven deadly sins.

The symbolism of vanity

In Western art, vanity was often symbolized by a peacock, and in Biblical terms, by the Whore of Babylon. In secular allegory, vanity was considered one of the minor vices. During the Renaissance, vanity was invariably represented as a naked woman, sometimes seated or reclining on a couch. She attends to her hair with comb and mirror. The mirror is sometimes held by a demon or a putto. Other symbols of vanity include jewels, gold coins, a purse, and often by the figure of death himself.

Often we find an inscription on a scroll that reads "Omnia Vanitas" ("All is Vanity"), a quote from the Latin translation of the Book of Ecclesiastes. [James Hall, "Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art" (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 318.] Although that phrase, itself depicted in a type of still life, vanitas, originally referred not to obsession with one's appearance, but to the ultimate fruitlessness of man's efforts in this world, the phrase summarizes the complete preoccupation of the subject of the picture.

"The artist invites us to pay lip-service to condemning her," writes Edwin Mullins, "while offering us full permission to drool over her. She admires herself in the glass, while we treat the picture that purports to incriminate her as another kind of glass—a window—through which we peer and secretly desire her." [Edwin Mullins, "The Painted Witch: How Western Artists Have Viewed the Sexuality of Women" (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1985), 62-3.] The theme of the recumbent woman often merged artistically with the non-allegorical one of a reclining Venus.

In his table of the Seven Deadly Sins, Hieronymus Bosch depicts a bourgeois woman admiring herself in a mirror held up by a devil. Behind her is an open jewelry box. A painting attributed to Nicolas Tournier, which hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, is "An Allegory of Justice and Vanity". A young woman holds a balance, symbolizing justice; she does not look at the mirror or the skull on the table before her. Vermeer's famous painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is sometimes believed to depict the sin of vanity, as the young girl has adorned herself before a glass without further positive allegorical attributes. [http://essentialvermeer.20m.com/cat_about/necklace.htm] "All is Vanity", by Charles Allan Gilbert (1873-1929), carries on this theme. An optical illusion, the painting depicts what appears to be a large grinning skull. Upon closer examination, it reveals itself to be a young woman gazing at her reflection in the mirror.

Such artistic works served to warn viewers of the ephemeral nature of youthful beauty, as well as the brevity of human life and the inevitability of death.

See also

* Vanitas
* Vanity gallery
* Narcissism
* Erotic capital
* Selfishness
* Hubris


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  • Vanity — Van i*ty, n.; pl. {Vanities}. [OE. vanite, vanit[ e], L. vanitas, fr. vanus empty, vain. See {Vain}.] [1913 Webster] 1. The quality or state of being vain; want of substance to satisfy desire; emptiness; unsubstantialness; unrealness; falsity.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Vanity — ist: der englische Begriff für Eitelkeit der Künstlername der Sängerin/Schauspielerin Denise Matthews der Name einer Pornodarstellerin, siehe Vaniity ein Begriff der Telekommunikation, siehe Vanity Rufnummer Vanity Verlag bezeichnet einen Verlag …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • vanity — (n.) early 13c., that which is vain, futile, or worthless, from O.Fr. vanite, from L. vanitatem (nom. vanitas) emptiness, foolish pride, from vanus empty, vain, idle (see VAIN (Cf. vain)). Meaning self conceited is attested from mid 14c. Vanity… …   Etymology dictionary

  • vanity — [van′ə tē] n. pl. vanities [ME vanite < OFr vanité < L vanitas, emptiness, worthlessness < vanus, vain: see WANT] 1. any thing or act that is vain, futile, idle, or worthless 2. the quality or fact of being vain, or worthless; futility 3 …   English World dictionary

  • vanity — index jactation, pride Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • vanity — *pride, vainglory Analogous words: self esteem, self love, *conceit, egotism, egoism, amour propre: complacency, self complacency, self satisfaction, smugness, priggishness (see corresponding adjectives at COMPLACENT): show, ostentation, pretense …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • vanity — [n] conceit, egotism affectation, airs, arrogance, big headedness*, conceitedness, display, ego trip*, narcissism, ostentation, pretension, pride, self admiration, self love, self worship, show*, showing off*, smugness, vainglory; concept 410 Ant …   New thesaurus

  • vanity — ► NOUN (pl. vanities) 1) excessive pride in or admiration of one s own appearance or achievements. 2) the quality of being worthless or futile. ORIGIN Latin vanitas, from vanus empty, without substance …   English terms dictionary

  • Vanity 6 — Infobox musical artist Name = Vanity 6 Img capt = Background = group or band Birth name = Alias = Origin = Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. Genre = R B, funk, soul, new wave, pop, rock Occupation = Band Years active = 1981 1983 Label = Warner… …   Wikipedia

  • vanity — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) Excessive pride Nouns 1. vanity, conceit, conceitedness; immodesty, self esteem, self love, self praise; complacency, smugness, amour propre, hubris; ego trip. See boasting, selfishness. 2. [false] pride …   English dictionary for students


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