All is Vanity



Def Leppard‘s Retro Active album cover, which Hugh Syme co-designed with Nels Israelson, shows a lady sitting at a dressing table, looking in a mirror. From another perspective, 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).


 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.The Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible) renders the verse as Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.The verse is translated as Vanity of vanities; all is vanity by the King James Version of the Bible.

Charles Allen Gilbert created his famous All is Vanity illustration in 1892 at a mere 18 years old. The painting remained unsold for nearly a decade until Gilbert finally sold the original to LIFE Publishing Co., a then tiny cartoon tabloid sold in railroad stations for a nickel. Vanity latered appeared in LIFE in 1902 and was an instant success. The illustration was soon mass produced and sold to an enthusiastic American public.


Christian Dior’s Poison ad campaign

Grand Staff

Franz Schubert


Gilbert & Sullivan


Richard Wagner


Gioachino Rossini


Giacomo Puccini


Johannes Brahms


Edvard Grieg


Béla Bartók


Georg Friedrich Händel


Johann Strauss II


Leoš Janáček