My first impression of the exhibition, which I saw in Essen, was that it was unusually large and impressive for a thematically-focused show (126 works). It comprised eleven sections correspond ing to different categories of still-life painting: trompe l’oeil; vanitas; market and kitchen pieces; game still-life; laid tables; fruit and sumptuous still-life; flower pieces; religious and allegorical themes. Next to some huge ‘pronk’ still-lifes, the pantries, kitchen and market scenes accounted for many of the big works. Compared with Dutch still-life paintings, such large pieces were a specific feature of Flemish still-life until 1680.
Of the 56 artists represented, ten executed over half the works exhibited, with, surprisingly, no examples by Frans Ykens, Hieronymus Galle, Pieter Gysels or Andries de Coninck; that shown as Jan Philips van Thielen (no. 123) is a misattribution, while Nicolaes van Veerendael appeared only as co-painter in two pictures. Such co-operation between specialists is of course a characteristic of Flemish artistic production. A clear ‘foreigner’ is Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger (no. 26), a Dutch painter whose father was born in Antwerp. The inclusion of Jan Davidsz de Heem (born Utrecht 1606) is understandable, since he was working in Antwerp by 1635. His enormous influence on many of the Flemish and Dutch still-life painters is hardly shown in the exhibition. Although Adriaen van Utrecht is represented by two large sumptuous paintings (nos. 4 and 85), they do not really show the extent of his influence on De Heem before he began painting his own large sumptuous still-lifes.
Unfortunately not all paintings were of the highest quality or in good condition (nos. 19, 21, 49, 79, 81, 102, 124), so that here less would have been more. It is of course not always possible to obtain only first class works, but I believe good alternatives could have been found for artists such as Osias Beert and Jacob van Es. Moreover, a more rigorous definition of still-life would have eliminated some works (e.g. nos. 12-14, 59).
Several attributions or dates are in my opinion disputable:
*No. 28 is not by Jan van Kessel, but all elements are found in Jan Brueghel the Elder’s 1612 Flower Piece (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, inv.no. 1466), a copy of which (Prado, inv.no. 1421) is tentatively attributed by K. Ertz (Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1979, p. 283) to Jan van Kessel, but I strongly doubt this attribution.
*No. 29 might be a copy after the Van Kessel in the Mellon collection, Virginia.
*No. 31 is a rather weak copy in poor condition after Jan van Kessel.
*No. 32 has no attribution and there is doubt about its Flemish origin.
*No. 41 is by a follower of Snyders in a much later frame.
*No. 106 is not Jan Davidsz de Heem but by the German Ernst Stuven who worked in Holland.
*The book still-life by Jan Davidsz de Heem mentioned on p. 143 is dated 1629 not 1625.
*The large Ambrosius Bosschaert mentioned on p. 292 (Bol 1960, no. 6) is by a ‘Pseudo-Bosschaert’ to whom other works may be attributed.
*A small correction to Wied’s clarification of Jean-Baptist de Saive I’s authorship of a series of six market pieces (p. 180). The signed painting shown in the Beuckelaer exhibition in Ghent (1986-87; no. 27), and later sold as by Jean-Baptiste de Saive II (Christie’s, London 7-7-2000, lot 36, not 38), is not by the same Jean-Baptiste de Saive I (nor by his son Jean-Baptiste de Saive II). The painting is signed FRA.. SAFVES., and is by Frans de Saive, a brother of Jean-Baptiste II, documented as a master painter in Antwerp in 1599, and known as Francisco de Namur. Another work of this master is a signed Lamentation in Schleissheim.
*On the misunderstanding surrounding the attribution of a work by Hieronymus Francken the Younger to Hans Anton François (Schütz, p. 27), see Sam Segal, A Prosperous Past: The Sumptous Still-life in the Netherlands, 1600-1700, cat. exh. 1988-89 (chapter 3).
*No. 114 is undated.
*No. 123 is not by Jan Philips van Thielen. It might be by the Italian Mario Nuzzi, known as Mario dei Fiori. It belongs to a series of flower wreaths, often with flying birds or butterflies.
*The identification of the flowers in Bosschaert (no. 99) is incorrect. Other misidentifications include Lilium chalcedonicum for a white form of Lilium martagon (no. 5), Zinnia and Jasmine for daisy and stock (no. 51). I cannot identify a chrysanthemum in no. 126, perhaps the flowers referred to are Marrigolds. The so-called peony in no. 80 is a rose and accordingly misinterpreted.
The catalogue has eleven essays corresponding to the eleven sections in the exhibition. Each essay is immediately followed by the entries. The quality of the contributions is uneven, and too much reliance has been placed on German language publications. More careful editing would have corrected mistakes and omissions in the bibliography, and one would have liked to have had the names of contributors to exhibition catalogues rather than just the exhibition location. The three-column text lay-out is a bit dense and I found the colored bars before the catalogue numbers bothersome, the colored line at the bottom of each page superfluous, and irritating below the reproductions, which are excellent.
The various authors take different approaches to the issue of symbolism. Braakensiek provides an erotic interpretation of Alexander Adriaenssen’s sumptuous Still-life with Dead Fowl (no. 86), but leaves us pondering the meaning of the hanging dead black lapwing on the left and the hanging bunch of white grapes on the right. He suggests an interesting erotic connection between engravings of laid tables, one by Gillis van Breen and one after David Vinckboons, and texts by St. Augustine and later humanists which relate the senses to abundance and temperance (pp. 226-227). Prohaska (no. 126) fails to explain why the pear is a symbol of the all-embracing love of Christ. Wieczorek relates the lion mascarons on a glass vase by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (no. 99) to the Resurrection of Christ as the lion of Judea. Ertz rightly rejects Brenninkmeijer-de Rooy’s proposal that no moralizing message is present in the later works of Jan Brueghel the Elder.
The exhibition was not as prestigious a project as the Dutch Still-life exhibition in Amsterdam and Cleveland (1999-2000) and did not have the same opportunity to obtain the best works. The catalogue gives an interesting overview of Flemish Still-life painting, without, it must be said, providing many new findings, and one is advised to check references. Despite such reservations, the catalogue is certainly a valuable and beautifully executed contribution to one’s library and the exhibition was a show which certainly delighted the senses.