Since ancient times, artists have depicted arrangements of inanimate objects. However, still life painting became an independent genre by the end of the 16th century.hecentury in which Flemish and Dutch artists captured intricate compositions of everyday objects. In the early days of this art form, these scenes were used to represent prosperity and were also infused with religious symbols. Over time, the genre became popular in Europe and the United States and took on many shapes and forms. In this article, we explore the work of 20 artists who stood out in the genre.
- Miguel Ángel Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
- Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621)
- Clara Peters (1594-1657)
- Jacob Van Es (1596-1666)
- Pedro Claesz (1597-1661)
- Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)
- Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670)
- Louise Moillon (1610-1696)
- Gerrit Dou, also called Gerard Do (1613-1675)
- Willem van Aelst (1627-1683)
- Adriaen van der Spelled (1630-1673)
- Raquel Ruysch (1664-1750)
- Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779)
- Luis Melendez (1716-1780)
- Francisco Goya (1746-1828)
- Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885)
- Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
- Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902)
- Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
- Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
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Miguel Ángel Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Caravaggio is famous for the intense realism of his large-scale religious and mythological works and for their volatile nature. He is also famous for using theBright darktechnique. Though his life was short, Caravaggio influenced the artists of his time and subsequent art movements, most notably Baroque art and 19th-century realism. The painting we see here is attributed to the artist's hand and is just one of two still lifes associated with him (the other isfruit basket). Unlike other works by Caravaggio, where dramatic light contrasts are common, here a uniform light covers the composition populated by an arrangement of fruits and vegetables that carries a message of life and fertility and that, for some, also has sexual connotations. . The artist is said to have painted this scene inside his home, where he cut holes in the ceiling to get just the right amount of light.
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621)
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder was one of the pioneers of Dutch still life painting. He was the son of the artist Ambrosius Bosschaert II, who trained his son. Ambrosius began his career capturing rare flowers in botanical gardens and did some drawings for the botanist Carolus Clusius. He later used these scientific drawings to compose his paintings. After Spanish troops recaptured Antwerp, the Protestant Bosschaert family fled to the north of the Netherlands. During his stay, the artist had access to a beautiful botanical garden that served as inspiration for his still lifes. Evidenced in this work of art is the artist's ability to accurately capture flowers and insects. Different species of flowers are arranged in a basket. The pink carnation, white rose and yellow tulip on the table catch our attention. The presence of insects, such as butterflies and bees, reminds us of the brevity of life but also of the beauty of nature.
Clara Peters (1594-1657)
Clara Peeters was one of the few female painters active in 17th-century Europe. Although there is no evidence of her background, scholars believe that the artist was a student of Osias Beert, a famous Antwerp still life artist. By 1612, Peeters was painting many realistic still lifes that often featured groupings of valuable objects, such as metal goblets, gold coins and rare flowers, which he arranged on narrow shelves. One of the artist's most famous works isstill life with fish and cat. In this work, he portrayed the abundance of a home in great detail. The scales of different types of fish stacked on top of each other stand out, as well as the cat included in the lower right corner that holds a fish under its paws. The whole composition has a dim light. Just a few light accents give the image a dramatic touch.
Jacob Van Es (1596-1666)
Along with Clara Peeters and Osias Beert, Jacob was one of the main representatives of the first generation of Flemish still lifes. Throughout his career, he created many still life scenes with realistic food or flower arrangements. There is not much information about Van Es' life. Evidence suggests that he was active mainly in Antwerp, where he became Master in 1617, although he did not join the Guild of St Luke until later. He must have been successful, as his paintings were documented in various Antwerp 17th-century collections. Even Peter Paul Rubens' inventory included two of his works. This still life demonstrates the artist's mastery of food textures and his ability to reflect the translucent nature of wine. As usual in this genre, the artist captured the passage of time by including a piece of bacon and orange slices on a plate. The whole feeling of the painting is one of abundance and prosperity.
Pedro Claesz (1597-1661)
Pieter Claesz was one of the most important still life painters of his time. Most of the artist's biography is uncertain, but many believe his work is reminiscent of the meticulously arranged table scenes of Clara Peeters and Osias Beert the Elder. Over the years, Claesz's tabletop paintings have depicted a wide variety of foods and beverages, tobacco devices and musical equipment with extreme realism. Claesz's innovative compositions and his ability to recombine the same set of objects into myriad original arrangements have influenced artists in his hometown and beyond. The luxurious table we see here is a good example of the artist's talent. The first thing that catches your attention is the large turkey pie in the background, adorned by a dead bird holding a flower. Also noteworthy is the wine jug that reflects a window and part of the set table, but also the faded figure of the painter behind his easel. Here, the passage of time is symbolized by half-eaten food.
Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)
Zurbarán is known for his depictions of religious themes. However, he also created still lifes where he masterfully captured the physical nature of objects and the space they inhabit. This painting by Zurbarán is the artist's only signed and dated still life and has been described as a masterpiece of its kind. All objects in this composition have important religious meanings. For example, the disposition of the three elements could have been understood by the Spanish religious as an allusion to the Holy Trinity. At the same time, this work has been interpreted as a tribute to the Virgin, with the orange trees, their flowers and the chalice of water alluding to her purity, and the rose without thorns to her Immaculate Conception. Along with these meanings, the textures of the fruit are represented with great realism. The whole composition emanates a harmonious rhythm oflights and shadows.
Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670)
Garzoni was a talented 17th-century botanical artist who also produced still-life paintings. She was born into an artistic family and met many artists and scientists who influenced her. In particular, the artist had an unconventional lifestyle, as she never married and worked for various courts in Europe. For example, she was employed by the Medici of Florence for 25 years. Over time, Giovanna developed a distinctive style for her still life scenes. He often worked in tempera on parchment, adding precise dots of ink that brought realistic compositions to life with native flora and fauna alongside exotic species. This painting reflects the artist's mastery of drawing and painting. It features a hyper-real representation of a bowl of citrons that have been plucked from a tree. The presence of a fly on one of the fruits and some flowers on the table suggest the passage of time.
Louise Moillon (1610-1696)
Moillon came from a family of artists and was exposed to painting at an early age. He also lived in a neighborhood where Protestant refugees from the south of the Netherlands resided. Among them were many artists who introduced Louise to the tradition of painting tabletop still lifes. Moillon, also a Protestant, became a prominent member of this group, creating still lifes filled with fruit and flowers. The artist was recognized during her lifetime and her work was collected by art patrons. However, starting in 1640, he took a 30-year break from painting to concentrate on his family. The artist's still lifes, such as the one seen here, include a method of illusionism known asa bum(fool the eye). Moillon used devices, such as the open pomegranate that hovers slightly over the edge, to create the impression that the space is closer to the viewer. The tactile quality of lemons and oranges reinforces this illusion.
Gerrit Dou, also called Gerard Do (1613-1675)
Gerrit Dou is considered the founder of the Dutch school of painting fijnschilderij de Leiden, characterized by its small, smooth surfaces. The artist learned the art of engraving from his father and was a student of Rembrandt. Over the years he has specialized in genre scenes and is known for his "niche" trompe l'oeil work and candlelit night scenes with a strong presence of chiaroscuro. Dou was a successful artist. As proof of this, his works were more expensive during his lifetime than Rembrandt's. He is also known for his obsessive attention to detail, as he could spend days working on just one element of his paintings. In this Vanitas, the artist's ability to reproduce details is evident. This scene is littered with books, prints, unfinished paintings, and a skull. A convex mirror is also in the background of the painting, reflecting a domestic scene. Beside that, a painting of what appears to be another still life hangs on the wall. The presence of a realistic skull, calledMemento Mori(Latin phrase meaning "Remember that you are going to die"), reminds us of the certainty of death.
Willem van Aelst (1627-1683)
Willem van Aelst, known as "The Dutchman", spent many years in Florence, where he painted still lifes that were purchased by members of the Medici family, including Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici, an avid collector. The artist eventually settled in Amsterdam and continued to be a favorite of distinguished art patrons. Over the years he painted various types of still lifes and was one of the first artists to depict hunting trophies in his compositions. This painting is a fine example of the type of hunting still life he became known for. Features a realistic death dove that looks like it has been hunted. The composition is rather gloomy and is covered in dim light.
Adriaen van der Spelled (1630-1673)
Throughout his career, Adriaen van der Spelled created still lifes in which flower arrangements took center stage. One of his most famous works is this still life of a large flower garland impressively displaying 20 varieties of flowers. Among them, the artist singled out a tulip, a 16th-century import from Persia that would become an icon of Dutch culture. Although some of the flowers hidden in the background are starting to wither, most of the composition speaks of the vitality of life. In particular, this flower arrangement is partially covered by a curtain painted by artist Frans van Mieris. The extremely realistic blue curtain harks back to the common practice of protecting paintings, but also to the story of Parhassius, a talented Greek artist who outwitted his rival in a painting competition. His opponent tried to open the curtain that Parhassius had painted!
Raquel Ruysch (1664-1750)
Rachel Ruysch comes from an illustrious background. Her grandfather, Pieter Post, was an architect and her father, Frederik Ruysch, a scientist. The artist's father taught her to accurately depict nature; at age 15 she was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, also included in this list. Rachel was a popular artist. He was a member of the painters' guild in The Hague and produced flower paintings for international clients. He also lived to be eighty, a rarity in his day. In this still life, a group of flowers takes center stage. We can even see the individual pollen grains within each of the flowers in this pyramid-shaped composition. Although this work features some elements of the type of image known as Vanitas, which emphasize the inevitability of death, scholars doubt that this was Ruysch's intention. Life rather than death seems to stand out through the insects placed on some of the stems.
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779)
Chardin's still lifes depict humble objects and food. Unlike other still life artists, Chardin selected items from his home as subjects based on their material qualities rather than their symbolic meaning. His ability to record objects was commented on in the 19th century: "...perhaps the material fascination of painting has never developed until now, which deals with objects of no intrinsic interest, transfiguring them through the magic of handling... "Chardin was recognized throughout his life and praised by members of the Academy. However, as tastes shifted in favor of history painting, his art fell out of favour. This painting reflects the artist's style, depicting a piece of raw meat hanging from a metal hook along with other kitchen utensils. Garlic and leeks are depicted with great realism. We were impressed by the reflection of light on the jug and bowl, as well as on a piece of white cloth located on the left side of the painting.
Luis Melendez (1716-1780)
Meléndez's hyper-realistic still lifes introduce elements of everyday middle-class life in 18th-century Madrid. Eating habits, kitchen utensils, different foods and drinks and containers are shown throughout his compositions. In particular, the artist did not work with complete settings. Instead, he studied and painted his objects one at a time, starting with the front and ending with the table and background. The artist's approach to the genre is appreciated in this work that features pears and a melon alongside everyday kitchen utensils painted with an understated yet sensual realism. Scholars believe this still life may be from a series representing "all kinds of food produced in Spain" that Meléndez created for the king's summer home. Ironically, many of these works were painted at a time of severe food shortages. The artist himself had no money and once said that his brush was his only asset.
Francisco Goya (1746-1828)
Francisco de Goya's expressive paintings marked the development of future artistic movements by introducing dark psychological and political themes into his dramatic compositions. Goya produced at a frenetic pace, but he painted only about a dozen still lifes by the age of 60, when he concentrated on creating private paintings in solitude. One of the most famous is entitledstill life with gold. In this moonlight painting, the artist portrayed the beauty of fish while hinting at the animals' death. The painting has an eerie feel and the process of dying is masterfully portrayed. At the same time, the unstable arrangement of fish gives the composition a dramatic tone. Some have suggested that the scene relates, on a symbolic level, to the human slaughter that resulted from Spain's conflict with France.
Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885)
Sarah Miriam Peale was a forward-thinking artist. Along with his uncle Charles Willson Peale, his father James Peale and other relatives, he was part of America's first artistic dynasty. Trained by her father and uncle, Sarah specialized in creating miniature portraits, but she also painted realistic still lifes. Along with her older sister, miniaturist Anna Claypoole Peale, Sarah was one of the first women elected to the Pennsylvania Scholars, a group of artists active at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This still life scene, titled Peaches and Grapes in a Porcelain Bowl, reflects Sarah's skills. Notably, all grapes are represented in a state of perfection and without rot, which was common in the genre. The light shines on the grapes resting on the table and the peaches in the bowl, which feature intricate patterns and textures.
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
Courbet was the main exponent of Realism. In addition to being an artist, Courbet became involved with the political world and was arrested for his subversive ideas. The artist created this still life of a plate of apples during his arrest for his involvement in the Paris Commune, a radical government that briefly ruled Paris. While in prison, he was allowed to paint, but not to use live models. The artist's sister brought Courbet flowers and fruit, and from these gifts he began to explore still life, a genre he had previously neglected. Unlike the tradition of Dutch still life, where fruits and flowers portrayed the passage of time, here the apples appear ripe. The composition is filled with dim light, likely from the dark location where the artist captured this image. However, the latter is also related to the affinity he had with shaded screens.
Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902)
Lilly Martin Spencer grew up in a home that supported women's talent. Best known for her depictions of domestic life in mid-19th century America, Spencer was also an accomplished still-life painter. Impressively, this artist supported a family of 8 children with her art. Once married, Lilly continued her formal training and enrolled in evening drawing classes at the National Academy of Design. She was also named an honorary member of the Academy, the highest recognition the institution allowed women at the time. The artist's mastery of drawing and painting is seen in the painting.oranges, walnuts and figsin whichscaptured a bowl with different fruits and nuts. While the oranges appear to be at the height of perfection, the grapes begin to break down, adding a sense of immediacy and hinting at the cycles of life.
Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
Henri Fantin-Latour lived during the rise of Impressionism and was a friend of Manet. However, he remained faithful to the monarchist tradition started by Courbet. Like his teacher, Courbet, the artist believed that his paintings should not portray unrealistic images and that subjects should be portrayed as they were. The artist also saw a connection between color and poetry and wanted his paintings to be a symphony of color. Henri's ideas are reflected in the many still lifes he created, which were his main source of income. In this painting we see geometric shapes and organic lines that give life to a composition where a pot, a bowl of pears and a group of pomegranates coexist in perfect balance. The similar color palette of these three elements creates a harmonious and balanced composition.
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
Paul Cézanne laid the groundwork for the emergence of modern art movements. Over time, Cézanne experimented with still life painting. In these paintings, nothing was random, as the artist tirelessly rearranged the objects in his studio, often playing with a myriad of points of view. In addition to small sculptures, household objects and furniture, Cézanne was also attracted to fruit, which appears freshly picked in his paintings. The latter is seen in the painting.Still life with apples and peaches. Looking at this painting, Cézanne's words come to life: “they [the fruits] love to have their portraits done. . . . They exude their message with their perfume. They come to you with all their scents and tell you about the fields they left, the rain that made them grow, the sunrises they watched…”
- From the 17th century, still life painting flourished in Flanders and the Netherlands. For that reason, many of the artists on this list hail from these regions.
- For centuries, still life painting was associated with occult religious symbolism, and over time it split into different subgenres, including fruit and vegetable studies, food still lifes, and Vanitas paintings.
- During the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, Vanitas paintings, containing collections of symbolic objects that reflected the inevitability of death and the transience of pleasures, were extremely popular.
- Memento mori (a Latin phrase meaning "remember that you must die") still lifes are linked to Vanitas, as they remind the viewer of the brevity of life through symbols such as skulls and unlit candles.
- Women artists who worked in this genre were recognized during her lifetime. The latter is related to the fact that this theme was seen as more appropriate for the female gender.
- Over time, artists experimented with the genre, creating compositions that captured everyday habits rather than religious meanings. The genre also continued to be reinterpreted throughout the 20th century.
- Through still life painting you can practice your drawing and painting skills and rediscover the objects around us!
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