A still life is an artwork that depicts inanimate and everyday objects, such as flowers, food, dead animals, plants, books, jewelry, vases, drinking glasses, skulls, etc.
The objects that comprise of the still life are generally assumed to not move nor change, and are arranged by the artist.
This affords the artist much more freedom than the other genres, as they are able to arrange the compositions as they see fit.
Interestingly, the French term for still life is nature morte, which translates to ‘dead nature.’ Still lifes are often meant to be pleasant and to cater to the senses. Each object depicted in turn relates to one of the senses: smell the flowers, taste the fruit, listen to the musical instruments.
Sometimes, though, they can carry a tinge of somberness. Most Dutch Baroque still lifes concern themes of Vanitas (the vanity of all earthly things).
These paintings would allude to virtues of frugality, hard work, and temperance, as well as hinting at the inevitability of death via symbolism. For instance, a skull could symbolise death. Vanitas also is referred to as a ‘memento mori’ (meaning ‘remember death’).