As prescribed by Paulina Constancia

Conversational Calaveras 3: All is Vanity

Today we look into the world of optical illusions. We pay special attention to the art of Charles Allan Gilbert  “All is Vanity” and how it has inspired a whole genre  in art called “visual pun”.


The SKULL Optical Illusion that started it all:
“All is Vanity”  by Charles Allan Gilbert (1892)

Charles Allan Gilbert (b. 1873, died 1929), better known as C. Allan Gilbert, was a prominent American illustrator. He is especially remembered for a widely published drawing (a memento mori or vanitas) titled “All Is Vanity”. The drawing employs a double image (or visual pun) in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror, when viewed from a distance, appears to be a human skull. The title is also a pun, as this type of dressing-table is also known as a vanity.


All Is Vanity (1892)
Illustration by Charles Allan Gilbert
Image via Wikipedia


Def Leppard’s Retro Active album (1993)

Info from Wikipedia

Retro Active is an album by English hard rock band Def Leppard, released in 1993. The album features touched-up versions of B-sides and previously unreleased recordings from the band’s recording sessions between 1984 and 1993. The album charted at number 9 on The Billboard 200[5] and No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart.[6]

The album cover, by Nels Israelson and Hugh Syme, is a photograph of a lady sitting at a dressing table, looking in a mirror. However, if the cover is viewed at arm’s length or from a distance, it takes the form of a skull (a type of vanitas art), the woman’s head forming the left eye socket, and her reflected head in the mirror forming the right eye socket. The mirror itself forms the shape of the skull and the accessories on the dressing table form the nose, nostrils and teeth. It was inspired by Charles Allan Gilbert’s most famous work, All Is Vanity (1892).


Def Leppard
“Retrpoactive” album
Image via amazon


Dior Parfums – “Poison” – CLM BBDO (2002)
Info via adforum

2002 winner of EPICA award
Discipline: Advertising / Full Service / Integrated
Award Type: Creative Award

Title “Poison”
Agency CLM BBDO, France
Campaign Poison
Advertiser Christian Dior S.A.
Brand Dior Parfums


2002 Dior’s “Poison” ad recreates Gilbert’s “All is Vanity”
Image via adforum


Other artists’  versions of Gilbert’s “ALL IS VANITY”: 


“All is vanity” by artist Shinryu
Image via deviantart



“It’ all vanity” by Rubin Artman
Image via worth1000



Installation art by ADAD HANNAH


Search the internet and you will find more  SKULL Visual Puns/optical illusions out there. They may be without the vanity mirror, but I’m sure they were inspired by Gilbert’s original idea one way or another . Here are a few examples:

Amy Dodd – “Skull Women”
Sam Rowe – ‘Starlight Starlings”
Movie Poster Design –“Comatose” (orig. title: “Mati Suri”)
Tony Corkery – couldn’t find original title, we’ll just call it “Hidden Skull”

“La vanidad es tan fantástica, que hasta nos induce a preocuparnos
de lo que pensarán de nosotros una vez muertos y enterrados.”
“Vanity is so absurd that it even leads us to worry
about what they think of us once we’re dead and buried.”
-Ernesto Sábato (1911-2011)
escritor, físico y pintor argentino/
Argentine writer, painter, physicist
via socialphrases

“La muerte sólo tiene importancia en la medida en que nos hace pensar en la vida. ”
“Death is only relevant insofar as it makes us think about life .”
– André Malraux  (1901- 1976)
novelista, aventurero y político francés/
French novelist,  adventurer & politician
via pensamientos


image for headerSo do…examine  your values and priorities in life as you reflect on death this Día de los muertos.








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This entry was posted on October 29, 2014 by in Create, Imagine and tagged , .
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