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.


Comments

Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

35mm 5womenartists abstract african-art a-history-of-photography akan american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals anna-atkins antiquities architecture art art-books artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern campus campus-redevelopment carroll-sterling-masterson chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain classic classic-films color colors-of-the-oasis concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision digital dont-blink-robert-frank drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records eye-on-houston family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film flowers food french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough gallery-interpretation garden garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history holiday holiday-fun hollywood homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art interactive ipads japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood king kodak latin latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave laura-israel learning-and-interpretation love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso mastersons mayan-art media mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mfa-cafe mfah mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta painting paintings paint-the-revolution paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian-art photographs photography picasso portrait portraits prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria rebel-jester-mystic-poet rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films snail snapshot spanish-art spring style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta tudors-to-windsors valentines-day venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper