17 Nov
Sun / 2019

Inside the MFAH
Still-Life Smorgasbord

Not much is known about artist Clara Peeters, who worked in Flanders and Holland during the first half of the 17th century. We do, however, know she was a master of still-life paintings at a time when women were not allowed to pursue art professionally and were rarely included in guilds.

Skillfully rendered still lifes—one of the few subjects deemed appropriate for women artists—were her specialty. About 30 of her works, thinly painted, nearly monochromatic, and delightfully detailed, are known to exist. They vary from simple compositions to sumptuous, complicated banquet pieces such as Still Life with Crab, Shrimps, and Lobster. This painting depicts an abundance of food alongside valuable metal and ceramic objects in a tightly spaced, balanced composition.

Mystery Surrounds the Meaning
Like the artist herself, mystery surrounds the meaning of this work. Is it simply a painting of an opulent feast, a popular genre meant to demonstrate the worldliness, wealth, and refinement of a painting’s owner? The bountiful buffet and expensive serving ware certainly point to luxury.

A knife, with a Maltese cross on its blade and a handle inlaid with red and blue precious stones, dangles on the edge of the cloth. In the foreground, an overload of cakes practically tumbles off the table. Three hefty hunks of cheese form a backdrop for a heaping platter of seafood. (A lone upended crab supplies a realistic, amusing touch.) Glass vessels with gilded rims and decorative elements and a stoneware jar with a pewter lid mingle among the bounty of eggs, crab, shrimp, and boiled lobster.

 

More to the Story?
But could this work contain a deeper meaning? Notably, all the foods displayed are allowed during the Lenten season, an observance of the period leading up to God’s sacrifice of his son, Jesus. An elaborate salt cellar with a generous scoop of salt sits behind cloth-covered bread, typical of a Sabbath meal. Furthering the religious theme, a blue-gray damask overlay shows a biblical scene of Abraham’s intention of following God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Damask, a finely woven monochromatic fabric of silk or linen in which the play of light reveals the pattern or scene, has a long history dating to China around 300 BC. Weavers in Belgium and the Netherlands began incorporating biblical or battle scenes into damask table linens in the 1600s. Although the use of damask in such paintings is not unusual, here the prominence of the scene-within-a-scene gives weight to the theory that Peeters may be drawing parallels between Old and New Testament themes, comparing the sacrificing of Isaac to that of Christ.

See “Still Life with Crab, Shrimps, and Lobster” on the second floor of the Beck Building.


Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

17th-century 18thc 18th-century 1960s 1970s 19th-century 20th-century 35mm 5womenartists abstract abstraction activities activity africa african-art a-history-of-photography akan america american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals animation anna-atkins antiquities architecture archive armchair-travel art art-books artist artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography black book british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern camp campus campus-redevelopment cannes carroll-sterling-masterson chair chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain civil-rights classes classic classic-films cocktail coffee collection color colors-of-the-oasis community concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess create cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision design digital discussion diversity documentary documents dont-blink-robert-frank drama drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records europe exhibition exhibitions eye-on-houston family family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film films flowers food france francis-bacon free french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough galleries gallery gallery-interpretation garden gardening garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project google-arts-and-culture habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happyhour happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history history-book-club holiday holiday-fun hollywood home homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art instagram interactive ipads islamic italian japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood kids king kodak kusama latin latin-america latin-american latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave latinx laura-israel learning-and-interpretation livestream love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso masterpiece mastersons mayan-art media meditation mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mexico mfa-cafe mfah mfah-book-club mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism monet movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art nature new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta oscars painting paintings paint-the-revolution paris paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian persian-art photographs photography picasso politics portrait portraits pose prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria radical rebel-jester-mystic-poet recipe rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler school sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films slow-art-day snail snapshot social soul soul-of-a-nation spain spanish-art spring streaming style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection theater the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta tour trivia tudors-to-windsors valentines-day vangogh venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art virtual wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper yoga zoom