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Still Life: The Five Senses with Flowers, 1639

Jacques Linard

French, 1600-1645
Oil on canvas
21-1/2 x 26-3/4 in. (54.6 x 68 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

In Paris, Linard associated with a group of Protestant artists who specialized in still-life painting. Among them were some of the leading painters in this genre, including Louise Moillon and Paul Liegeois. Although his style reveals the influence of the Flemish school, particularly Jan Brueghel, his works are also imbued with the elegance characteristic of French painting in this genre.

The allegory of the five senses was perfectly suited to the symbolic intent of 17th-century still lifes. In these emblematic arrangements, one or more objects signify each faculty. The flower arrangement connotes smell; sight pertains to the mirror, and taste to the pomegranate, lemon and cup of wine. An ivory flageolet, or flute, represents hearing, whereas touch is indicated by the playing cards, dice and shaker.

The painting’s emblematic possibilities are not limited to the senses, however, as sophisticated viewers would have recognized additional meanings. Card-playing and other games, as well as music, were considered transient pleasures. The flowers in the precious Chinese bowl might call attention to the passing of time and the fragility of youth. The mirror, which frequently appears in still lifes (its Latin root is mirari, or “to gaze"), likely underscores the theme of vanity. By extension, if one reads the red wine as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and death, the birch box as a symbol of his sepulcher and the split pomegranate as a reference to his resurrection, the composition betokens the Passion of Christ.

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