The objects in this still life appear simple and modest, but in the artist’s own time they would have been recognised as costly and luxurious. Luscious strawberries spill from an expensive Wanli bowl, imported from China. Olives glisten in a pewter dish and a salmon is cradled in its own crisp skin and sprinkled with capers. Fresh walnuts and a crusty loaf complete the meal, accompanied by white wine in the roemer (the heavy glass with a beaded stem) and beer in the tall, octagonal passglas behind it.
The background of autumnal leaves and perhaps even clouds may mean a meal taken outdoors or by an unseen open window – yet you wouldn't see brown leaves and strawberries at the same time of the year. It’s likely that the picture is a purely imaginative concoction of objects sketched at different times and put together for the pleasure of the viewer.
Still-life paintings of this kind were designed to celebrate the good things of life and the prosperity of the Dutch nation. Newly opened trade routes meant that the huge merchant vessels being built could travel to both East and West Indies and the countries in between, to bring back previously unknown fruits and exotic spices and textiles. But the pictures also demonstrated the skill of the artist in painting texture and perspective and in invoking the senses.
The pewter and silver vessels are arranged one behind the other to suggest distance, growing smaller in proportion as they recede. The ornate knife in the foreground pointing away from us, its tip resting on a pewter plate to reveal a shadow beneath it, shows the artist’s skill in painting perspective. He excelled in painting texture. The difference between the pewter plate holding the strawberries and the upturned silver beaker behind it is portrayed by making the silver glint more than the pewter and by subtly altering the colours. The slightly coarser linen of the table cloth contrasts with the brilliant white of the silk cloth hanging over the edge of the table. The slender passglas is made of heavier – and therefore probably less expensive – glass than the roemer, which has reflections on its surface that help to make it seem delicate and more fragile.
Where is the arrangement placed? The reflection on the roemer suggests that it’s in a room, and yet the grey background with the suggestion of autumnal leaves and perhaps even clouds, may mean a meal taken on a balcony perhaps, or by an unseen open window. But you wouldn‘t see brown leaves and strawberries at the same time of the year, so it’s likely that the picture is a purely imaginative concoction of objects sketched at different times and put together in the painting for the pleasure of the viewer.
Pieter Claesz. lived in Haarlem, where he was the most successful still-life painter of his time. For a while he painted in a ’monochrome' style, using a limited palette and soft, muted colours. But in his later career, when he painted this picture, he returned to more dramatic colours and compositions, possibly influenced by the sumptuous still-life paintings of Jan Davidsz. de Heem (look at Still Life, for example).
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