Still Life

 While still life dates back as far as early Roman antiquity, it  flourished in the Netherlands during the early 1600s or what was known as the Dutch Flemish golden age of art. This period existed during the Baroque period of art. Still lifes were the artists forum to display skill in painting objects in a realism style with great detail and dramatic lighting effects. A literal cornucopia of food, tableware and intricate cloth patterns and subtle folds in table cloths and flowers all challenged painters.
Several types of subject were recognised: dinner settings,  breakfast settings. 
Virtually all still lifes had a moralistic message, usually concerning the brevity of life – The Vanitas motif, (from Latin vanitas, “vanity”), in art, a genre of still-life painting that flourished in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. A vanitas painting contains collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent. The vanitas evolved from simple pictures of skulls and other symbols of death and transience frequently painted on the reverse sides of portraits during the late Renaissance. It had acquired an independent status by c. 1550 and by 1620 had become a popular genre. Its development until its decline about 1650 was centred in Leiden, in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, an important seat of Calvinism, which emphasized humanity’s total depravity and advanced a rigid moral code. However, in the case of Balthasar van der Ast and his students, their still-life paintings were often painted and bought for decorative purposes. These did not feature skulls, candles and hourglasses. There was wealth in the Netherlands, a growing middle-class, and money was spent on purchasing art. Flowers, fruit and grapes were deemed pleasant subjects to look at.
Although a few vanitas pictures include figures, the vast majority are pure still lifes, containing certain standard elements: symbols of arts and sciences (books, maps, and musical instruments), wealth and power (purses, jewelry, gold objects), and earthly pleasures (goblets, pipes, and playing cards); symbols of death or transience (skulls, clocks, burning candles, soap bubbles, and flowers); and, sometimes, symbols of resurrection and eternal life (usually ears of corn or sprigs of ivy or laurel). The earliest vanitas pictures were sombre, somewhat monochromatic compositions of great power, containing only a few objects (usually books and a skull) executed with elegance and precision. As the century progressed, other elements were included, the mood lightened, and the palette became diversified. Objects were often tumbled together in disarray, suggesting the eventual overthrow of the achievements they represent. Somewhat ironically, the later vanitas paintings became largely a pretext for meticulous virtuosity in the rendering of varied textures and surfaces, but the artistic quality of the genre in no sense declined. Several of the greatest Dutch still-life painters, including David Bailly, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Willem Claesz Heda, Pieter Potter, and Harmen and Pieter van Steenwyck, were masters of the vanitas still life, and the influence of the genre can be seen in the iconography and technique of other contemporary painters, including Rembrandt.
In general, the rise of still-life painting in the Northern and Spanish Netherlands reflects the increasing urbanization of Dutch and Flemish culture,  with an emphasis on the home and personal possessions, commerce, trade, learning—all the aspects and diversions of everyday life. Floral still lifes were especially prominent in the early 1600s, and in their highly refined execution and in their subjects and symbolism were addressed to a cultivated audience.
Painters such as Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Balthasar van der Ast, Roelandt Savery, and Jacob Vosmaer often referred to herbals and other botanical texts when composing “bouquets” (like Vosmaer’s A Vase of Flowers), which typically combined flowers from different countries and even different continents in one vase and at one moment of blooming. For many courtly collectors (for example, Emperor Rudolf II in Prague) and wealthy merchants, a flower picture was part of a private domain that included a garden with rare specimens (which occasionally cost more than paintings of them), colored drawings or watercolors of rare tulips and other unusual flowers, and a small library of botanical books and prints.
While floral still lifes were especially popular in Antwerp (Jan Brueghel the Elder and Younger were among the main practitioners; 67.187.58), Middelburg, and the court city of The Hague, the so-called monochrome “banquet” or “breakfast” still life was more common in the mercantile city of Haarlem; Floris van Dyck, Pieter Claesz, Willem Claesz Heda, and others arranged familiar foods (ham, cheese, oysters, and so on) and glasses of wine or beer on wooden tabletops. Vanitas still lifes were a specialty of Leiden artists such as the young Jan Davidsz de Heem and David Bailly. Large “market” and “kitchen” still lifes, which often include figures, were first popularized during the mid-1500s in Antwerp by Pieter Aertsen and his pupil Joachim Beuckelaer. Aertsen returned to his native Amsterdam in about 1557 and inspired Dutch painters such as Joachim and Peter Wtewael to paint similar works. The younger Wtewael’s Kitchen Scene adopts the sexual innuendo of Aertsen’s carnal motifs but misses his understatement.
In the 1650s and 1660s, when Amsterdam became the social, political, and financial capital of the Netherlands, still-life painters such as Van Beyeren and Willem Kalf  produced fancy 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. In these works and later flower pictures by De Heem, Willem van Aelst, Rachel Ruysch, and the highly influential Jan van Huysum, the emphasis upon aesthetic appeal and decorative function evident in almost all still-life painting is more conspicuous than ever before. It was also in the second half of the 1600s that still lifes of dead game, or “hunting trophies” (like Jan Weenix’s Falconer’s Bag of 1695), created an aristocratic image of country life (which is found also in pictures of live birds and animals, like Melchior d’Hondecoeter’s Peacocks of 1683). 
In earlier decades, pictures of dead game had been more at home in the Spanish Netherlands, where Frans Snyders and his follower Jan Fyt turned images of unfortunate fowl, hares, deer, and other animals into essays in color and texture, and into testaments of life lived comfortably on sprawling estates. By 1700, Dutch, Flemish, German, and French specialties had become less clearly distinguishable, with Dutch painters working for foreign princes and the market for still lifes growing throughout Europe. The French painters Jean Siméon Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Oudry are among the many eighteenth-century heirs to the Netherlandish tradition.

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder

Balthasar Van Der Ast

Willem Clasz Heda

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