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Juan de Zurbarán, Still Life with Lemons in a Wicker Basket

Key facts
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
Artist Juan de Zurbarán
Artist dates 1620 - 1649
Date made about 1643-9
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 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 NG6669
Location Room 30
Collection Main Collection
Still Life with Lemons in a Wicker Basket
Juan de Zurbarán

A wicker basket is piled high with fresh lemons, seemingly just picked from a tree, their leaves still attached. Sprigs of flowers – lemon blossom, red carnations, blue delphiniums, white roses, day lilies and a tulip – are scattered throughout the composition.

A goldfinch perches on the edge of a delicate porcelain bowl filled with water, and a single lily floats on the surface. These are almost certainly intended to be symbolic: the water and lily refer to the purity of the Virgin Mary, and the goldfinch is often associated with Christ’s Passion (his torture and crucifixion) and sacrifice.

This is one of a dozen or so surviving paintings by Juan de Zurbarán, son of the celebrated painter Francisco de Zurbarán. Juan delights in conveying the texture of each object – coarse lemon rind, waxy leaves, the reflective surface of the silver tazza. In this still life he successfully combines a straightforward design with a remarkably subtle handling of paint.

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