Distilled Life

Frans Snijders, Still Life with Dead Game (“… the second of Hares, Hartichokes & Pigeons”), c. 1616-20, Oil on Panel, 55,9 x 87,3 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

A special feature of the Pranketing Room was the gallery in the upper part of the two-story room. This gallery was decorated with a cycle of seven paintings. Offering an overview of the floor below, the gallery made it possible to oversee all activities in the room, an ideal space for monitoring and directing works from above. Thematically, the paintings matched exactly this function. The corresponding entry in the inventory reads:

“The Gallerie of the Pranketing Roome / is foure square, & on three sides thereof / stand seauen Pictures: The first of a Cooke, / the second of Hares, Hartichokes / & Pigeons. The third of a Fisherman the / Fourth of Poultry Rootes, sargenges & / uin dy Bottles: The Fifth of a Fowler / carrying Pigeons in his hand & wilde / Duckes lying by him: The sixth of a Hare / & severall kinde of Foules / The seauenth / of a Fruterer with Hartichikes Plums & Cherries.”

Four of the paintings show market and kitchen scenes that can be assigned to the four elements: a poultry vendour with various poultry to the element of air, a fruit dealer to earth, a fish market to water and a kitchen scene to the element of fire. With the elements, the four galenic fluids of the body are clearly referenced. Mediating between the larger scenes with figures were smaller still life arrangements in which symbols of the various elements were combined. These arrangements can be read as a visualization of the mixture, continuity and mutual dependence of the elements, and thus as an indication of the task of bringing the elements into harmony through various treatments of the human body, most of all nutrition and medicine.

The inventory does not mention a specific painter for the seven paintings. It only mentions two series of the Four Seasons, one by Veronese and one by Paolo Fiammingo. Another entry of “Six Kitchen scenes” does not contain any information about their painter. However, based on the detailed description, at least one still life painted by Frans Snijders can be clearly identified as the painting in the gallery: The “second of Hares, Hartichokes / & Pigeons” contains such a specific combination of objects, that the painting, whose provenance can be traced back to early 18th century Amsterdam and which is now in the Rijksmuseum, is obviously the source of this description.

Frans Snijders, Still Life with Dead Game (“The sixth of a Hare & severall kinde of Foules”?), c. 1616-1625, Oil on Canvas, 118.7 x 173,1 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

It appears as if instead of describing the second, clearly corresponding painting in the Rijksmuseum, showing a characteristic boar’s head, a lobster and a deer, the inventory taker got confused and made the mistake of describing the first picture with the hare and the poultry again. In size, style, and provenance the two paintings clearly belong together. We can safely assume that the remaining five paintings were painted by the Antwerp expert for markets and still lifes as well.

Norman Bryson shows that the evaluation of the genre of the still life is closely related to the evaluation of the female domain of the household. The materials and instruments of daily life, of cooking and washing, traditional women’s tasks, are re-imagined as constcamer objects. The dissonance between art and life, politics and household, is confronted and eliminated through the depiction of everyday objects in the medium of painting (Still Life and ‘Feminine Space 1990). On the status of still life in England, M. Kirby Talley wrote in 1983 about Small, Usuall, and Vulgar Things.

Karin Leonhard’s 2013 study on still life as a paradigmatic act of creation, which connects the painter with nature, image creation processes with life cycles and thus body and canvas, goes beyond such dichotomies. A view of painting as a process and medicine as shaping og the human body by art and science offers the possibility of a re-evaluation of the genre through the re-evaluation of the domestic sphere and kitchen physick.


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