1 November 2022
The detailed realism of Dutch still life paintings is compelling. But is there more to Dutch art than meets the eye?
Merchants of the Dutch Golden Age filled their townhouses with paintings. But these upright Calvinist citizens rejected biblical subjects and Baroque melodrama. Their favourite themes were found closer to home.
Still lifes of this period reflect the prosperity and self-esteem of the new Republic. Banketje (banquets) and ontbijtjes (breakfasts) appear to celebrate an abundance of both local and imported foodstuffs. But could the platter of oysters or kraakware bowl of blemished fruit instead warn of the dangers of gluttony and pleasures of the flesh?
Vanitas, ‘pronkstilleven’ and ‘blompots’ display collections of books and instruments, luxury goods and vases overflowing with exotic flowers. But if we look closely, the pocket watch, fading bloom or human skull, might hint that consciences are troubled by such ostentation.
Life is fragile and worldly beauty is fleeting. Join Lynne Gibson to explore the secret symbolic language of still life paintings.
Image: 'Still Life with Ham, Lobster and Fruit’ by Jan Davidsz de Heem (c.1652)
Lynne Gibson is a freelance lecturer in the History of Art, as well as in practical Drawing, Painting and Printmaking. She has held posts at the Universities of Sussex and Bristol, where she introduced ‘Understanding Art’ to the Lifelong Learning programme. She has worked as a professional artist specializing in oil painting and etching. Her work has been exhibited widely and used in a range of publications.