In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, though also common in other places and periods. The Latin word means "vanity" and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. As applied to vanitas art, the word is drawn from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes 1:2;12:8. The Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible) renders the verse:
Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas. [Eccl. 1:2;12:8]
(Vanity of vanities; all is vanity)
Vanitas by Roberto Ferri
Vanity is used here in its older (especially pre-14th century) sense of " futility". Vanitas themes were common in medieval funerary art, with most surviving examples in sculpture. By the 15th century these could be extremely morbid and explicit, reflecting an increased obsession with death and decay also seen in the Ars moriendi, the Danse Macabre, and the overlapping motif of the Memento mori. Paintings executed in the vanitas style were meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death. (source)
"Vanitas", 1896 by Leo Putz,
a Tyrolean painter (1869 - 1940). His work encompasses Art Nouveau, Impressionism and the beginnings of Expressionism.
"Der Nachtmahr" (auch "Alptraum" oder "Albtraum"), 1781 by Johann Heinrich Füssli
"El sueño de la razón produce monstruos", 1797-1799, the 43th etching of 80 prints "Los Caprichos" by Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828), a Spanish romantic painter regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns (a model for Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso).
"Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels." (Francisco Goya)