Talking Pictures (21) – Genre: Still Life Painting [Dutch School, 17th. Century]

Welcome once more followers and visitors to my blog and the latest update in my photography diary. The aim of this particular task is to gain, through research, an understanding of the still life genre in painting that will hopefully continue to inform and support a personal project entitled The Object as Cipher – Interpretation, meaning and the Development of Narrative. Today’s topic is Still Life and in particular the Dutch School of the 17th. century.

The emergence of the Dutch school of painting in the early seventeenth century is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in the history of the visual arts and especially in their rendition of the Still Life genre.

Still-life painting as an independent genre first flourished in the Netherlands during the early 1600s.

Still-life motifs occur fairly frequently in manuscripts, books of hours, and panel paintings of the 1400s and 1500s, –

Robert Campin’s Annunciation Triptych c.1427 -32,
Oil on oak
Overall: 645 x 1178 mm
Central panel: 641 x 632 mm
Wing: 645 x 273 mm
Met Museum, NY

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Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych, c.1427 -32

and in

Petrus Christus‘, Goldsmith in his Shop,1449-1449
Oil on oak panel
Overall:1001 x 8.8 mm
painted surface 980 x 852 mm
Met Museum, NY

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Petrus Christus, Goldsmith in his Shop,1449-1449

Many of the objects depicted in these early works are symbolic of some quality of the Virgin or another religious figure (the lily stands for purity), while other objects may remind the viewer of an edifying concept such as worldly vanity or temperance (as in the case of the goldsmith’s mirror and scales).

Moralizing meanings are also common in independent still-life paintings of the seventeenth century –

Jacques de Gheyn II’s, Vanitas Still Life of 1603,
Oil on wood
826 x 540 mm
Met Museum, NY

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Jacques de Gheyn II, Vanitas Still Life of 1603


Pieter Claesz’s Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill,1628
Oil on wood
241 x 359 mm
Met Museum, NY

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Pieter Claesz, Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill, 1628

and the luxuriousness of

Abraham van Beyeren’s Still Life with Lobster and Fruit, c.1650s
Oil on wood
965 x 787 mm
Met Museum, NY

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Abraham van Beyeren, Still Life with Lobster and Fruit, c.1650s

The pocket watch, symbolizes the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures and may be considered more of an intellectual conceit than a sober warning against the desire for material things like the objects depicted or the painting itself.

In general, the rise of still-life painting in the Netherlands reflected the increasing urbanization of Dutch and Flemish society, which brought with it an emphasis on the home, personal possessions, commerce, trade and learning—all the aspects and diversions of everyday life.

Vanitas and floral still lifes were prominent in the early 1600s, and in their highly refined execution and in their subjects and symbolism but for this project are not relevant to my research other than as a fleeting reference to the processes of death and decay.

My interest, for the present, lies within the so-called monochrome “banquet” or “breakfast” still life and the arrangement of the familiar common place objects.

In the 1650s and 1660s still life painters such as

Abraham van Beyeren (Beijeren), Banquet Still Life, c. 1653-55
Oil on canvas
1070 x 1155 mm
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle

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Van Beyeren, Banquet Still Life, c. 1653-55


Willem Kalf, Still Life with a Silver Jug and a Porcelain Bowl, 1655 – 1660
oil on canvas
738 × w 652 mm
Rijks Museum, Amsterdam

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Willem Kalf, Still Life with a Silver Jug and a Porcelain Bowl, 1655 – 1660

produced fancy display still lifes featuring imported fruits and expensive objects such as Chinese porcelain, Venetian glassware, and silver-gilt cups and trays, usually rendered in glistening light and a velvety atmosphere.



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