Still Life with Lemons in a Wicker Basket

This is one of only a dozen or so still-life paintings by Juan de Zurbarán, son of the celebrated painter Francisco de Zurbarán. It probably dates from the final years of Juan’s life, which came to an abrupt end when he died from the plague epidemic that hit Seville in 1649. In this painting the artist combines monumentality in design with extraordinary delicacy, depicting an array of objects with remarkable veracity.

At the centre of the imposing still life (or 'bodegón') stands a large woven basket piled high with fresh lemons, seemingly just picked from a tree, with their foliage still attached. Sprigs of flowers including lemon blossom, red carnations, blue delphiniums, two white roses, day lilies and a tulip are scattered throughout the composition.

In the lower left corner is a silver tazza surmounted by a delicate blue-and-white porcelain bowl filled with water, on whose lip a goldfinch perches and in which a single day lily floats. As is the case in the still life of A Cup of Water and a Rose by Juan’s father, Francisco de Zurbarán, these objects were almost certainly intended to be symbolic: the water and lily both refer to the Virgin’s purity, and the goldfinch is often associated with Christ’s Passion and sacrifice.

Key facts

Artist dates
1620 - 1649
Full title
Still Life of Lemons, Day Lilies, Carnations, Roses and a Lemon Blossom in a Wicker Basket, together with a Goldfinch perched on a Porcelain Bowl of Water, on top of a Silver Tray, all arranged upon a Stone Ledge
Date made
about 1643-9
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
81.4 × 108.5 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought with the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, and the National Gallery Trust, 2017
Inventory number
Location in Gallery