food in the arts




BRAY, Joseph de/ ARTISTS 1650-1899/ ART MAIN
Dutch painter (d. 1664, Haarlem)
Dutch painter, son of Salomon and brother of Joseph. Even before the death of Verspronck in 1662 and the octogenarian Frans Hals in 1666, Jan de Bray became the leading portraitist in Haarlem. In the mid-sixties he received four commissions for life-size collective portraits of governors from the city’s charitable institutions. Except for his first efforts in the early fifties, little in his oeuvre recalls the old master, Frans Hals. He often adopted the colourful palette and smooth, limpid manner of van der Helst, qualities evident in his historical portraits. His contact with Haarlem’s classicizing artists, particularly his father Salomon, who was his teacher, made assimilation of these aspects of van der Helst popular style an easy step.
Still-Ldfe in Praise of the Pickled Herring

Still-life in Praise of the Pickled Herring
Oil on oak, 57 x 48,5 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Fish still-lifes developed as a category during the seventeenth century – not an astonishing phenomenon when we recall that fishing, particularly for herring and cod, was a mainstay of the Dutch economy. A notable exponent of the type is Abraham van Beyeren. As the Dutch love for flowers, their love for seafood is proverbial. The Haarlemer Joseph de Bray, son of Salomon and brother of Jan, celebrated this taste in his picture, dated 1656, dedicated to the apotheosis of the pickled herring.

Resting behind the large, succulent herring and other objects in the painting’s foreground, there is an elaborate tablet, draped with a festoon of herrings and requisite onions, inscribed with a poem by the Remonstrant preacher and poet Jacob Westerbaen: ‘In praise of the Pickled Herring’ published in 1633. After telling of the herring’s delight to the eye, palette, and its other qualities, Westerbaen adds that consumption of it ‘Will make you apt to piss/And you will not fail/(With pardon) to shit/And ceaselessly fart…’ – proof, if it is needed, that plain profane messages are as likely embodied in Dutch paintings as spiritual ones. The painting was evidently a success. In the following year he painted another, somewhat larger still-life, now in Aachen, dedicated to the same subject. It includes the text of Westerbaen’s verse dedicated to the pickled herring, and a brief passage from his poem ‘Cupido’ on the page of an open folio accompanied by an ample display of herrings and onions.

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  Tableau avec cadre: Joseph de Bray, “ Bray / Praise of the Herring”, 77 x 105 – Bois Corum S: Doré