Almonds, Oysters, Sweets, Chestnuts and Wine on a Wooden Table, ca. 1605–30

2020 008 V0001Follower of Osias Beert I, Almonds, Oysters, Sweets, Chestnuts and Wine on a Wooden Table, ca. 1605–30, oil on panel, 18 1/8 x 25 3⁄4 inches. William L. and Erma M. Travis Endowment for the Decorative Arts, 2020.008

The depiction of this sumptuous still life derives from imagery used by Osias Beert I and Frans Francken I to illustrate the story The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus, a parable of greed and deprivation. In the model, which is now in a private collection in England, a scene of the rich man with his equally wealthy friends feasting while poor Lazarus sits on the floor and begs with dogs licking his wounds occupies the upper right corner of the composition. But by the time this panel was painted, the still life itself signaled the moral of the story without the need to depict the biblical narrative.

In the lower left, a pewter serving dish is filled with peeled almonds and candied almonds (today called “Jordan almonds”) and candied cinnamon sticks, called kapittelstokjes​ after the book marker used by Dutch ministers to keep their place in Bibles. In the center foreground, a comfit (sugar-coated spices, such as fennel seeds or anise) in the shape of a cross, a reminder of salvation, projects over the edge of the table. To the right is a plate of oysters, considered a delicacy at the time. At the upper right are two glasses in the Venetian fashion filled with white and red wine. A silver dish decorated with seahorses (an allusion to sea trade) in the center holds almond paste tartlets with grapes, more almond paste tartlets, and biscotti. In the background on the right is a pewter plate with chestnuts, in season in the autumn and used in stews or sautéed in butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. The large white bun filled with cream at center right was another luxury item relative to the standard fair of whole wheat or rye buns. With its Venetian glass, seahorse motifs and the prolific use of sugar – a commodity that came from plantations in the Caribbean islands and Brazil – the painting is a narrative of international trade and the slavery needed to sustain it.

 

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