Vanity is the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others. Prior to the 14th century it did not have such narcissistic undertones, and merely meant futility. The related term vainglory is now often seen as an archaic synonym for vanity, but originally meant boasting in vain, i.e. unjustified boasting, although glory is now seen as having a predominantly positive meaning, the Latin term from which it derives, gloria, roughly means boasting, and was often used as a negative criticism.
Philosophically, vanity may be a broader form of egotism 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." One of Mason Cooley's aphorisms is "Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful.
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. Symbols of vanity include jewels, gold coins, a purse, and the figure of death.
Some depictions of vanity include scrolls that read Omnia Vanitas ("All is Vanity"), a quotation from the Latin translation of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Although the term vanitas originally meant not obsession by one's appearance, but the ultimate fruitlessness of humankind's efforts in this world, the phrase summarizes the complete preoccupation of the subject of the picture.
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