The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Be the kitchen fat or be the kitchen thin, the food still life was a
staple of 17th-century Dutch painting. If the larder was rich, the table was
laden with seafood—oysters, lobsters, mussels—with golden goblets
and silver platters, with sparkling crystal and claret wine, perhaps a partridge
or two, a cut ham, certainly some grapes on the vine, and all of these objects
tastefully arranged on a table covering of a snowy cloth or a luxurious Turkish
carpet; but if the larder was thin, the table would be wooden and bare, containing
nothing more than a bit of cheese, a sliced herring, a humble drinking glass,
some beer. But the genius lavished on the latter was no less than that lavished
on the former. Whether it be the pearly skin of a fish or the rubiness of
burgundy, the artist's purpose was the same: to capture light and to embody
it in the objects of daily existence; the objects were transformed into corporeal
symbols of what nourishes life, inner as well as outer. Sometimes, especially
in the more opulent banquet pieces, the Dutch painters left a curl of lemon
peel to spiral across the white cloth, a reminder, perhaps, that one is nourished
by the bitter as well as by the sweet.
Southgate MT. Still Life With Oranges and Goblet of Wine. JAMA. 2001;286(19):2369. doi:10.1001/jama.286.19.2369
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