European Art: 17th-18th Centuries

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Still Life with Fruits and Flowers, c. 1630

Balthasar van der Ast

Dutch, 1593/4-1657
Oil on panel
16-1/4 x 29-1/2 in. (41.3 x 74.9 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1972.43.4.P
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on view

A seventeenth-century viewer would have delighted in the vivid display of motifs described with such care here by Balthasar van der Ast. The composition’s possible associations are as diverse as the motifs themselves. The four elements—earth, air, water and fire—are symbolized by the fruit, the flowers, the crayfish and shells and the fine china plate, respectively. Birth, death and rebirth, parts of the natural cycle of life, are signified by
the spring and summer flowers and the autumn fruits. Fallen petals and drying leaves atop the cluster of grapes underscore the passing of time.

Some of the objects here would have been particularly admired by an educated, affluent audience. The Chinese porcelain plate was a much sought-after appointment in the Dutch patrician home, and only a well-to-do household could have afforded a bouquet of flowers, particularly one with tulips, in a beautiful thorn-prunt beaker. Those viewers with an interest in nature’s curiosities would have been rewarded not only with the depiction of shells but also with the artist’s detailed description of insects and the bright red crayfish. In this way, the panel functioned like a collector’s cabinet full of the rare, exotic and beautiful, conveying a sense of wealth and connoisseurship.

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