food in the arts


DIJCK, Floris Claesz van/ ARTISTS BEFORE 1650/ ART MAIN original lfff site
(b. 1575, Haarlem, d. 1651, Haarlem) film and food  
Dutch painter, specialized particularly in kitchen and fruit still-lifes. There is an affinity between his motifs and those of Nicolaes Gillis and Floris van Schooten.

Still-life with Cheeses

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Still-Life with Cheeses
Oil on wood
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Early seventeenth-century still-life painters of food depict objects from a high point of view, to show as much as possible of the surface of a table, a vantage point similar to the one used by contemporary landscape, marine, and architectural painters. Symmetrically arranged platters of fruit, cheese, nuts, sweets, as well as glasses, jugs, and knives, are spread upon a flat tablecloth. The intimate objects appear to pose in a steady light, showing how carefully every surface and texture has been scrutinized and how faithfully everything has been rendered. It is perhaps difficult for us to imagine the amazement and sheer delight seventeenth-century observers took in the skill of artists who could represent delicious food with such exactitude: our eyes have been numbed by countless colour images of food illustrated in cookery books and advertisements designed to sell packaged edibles.
Laid Table
Laid Table
Oil on wood, 100 x 135 cm
Private collection

The aesthetically conservative principle of tables arranged strictly parallel to the horizontal edges of the painting was followed by Nicolaes Gillis and Floris Claesz van Dijck. (Predecessors were probably family paintings such as Marten van Heemskerck’s.) Their still-lifes are classified as ‘ontbijtjes’ (breakfast still-lifes). Onbijt(je) was a light meal which could be taken at any time of the day. Strictly speaking, most of the paintings by Gillis and van Dijck are dessert still-lifes, developed at roughly the time by Osias Beert and Clara Peeters.

All these artists show a table with a table runner and a carefully ironed, white damask tablecloth whose creases, regardless of the laws of perspective, run in parallel lines towards the back of the painting. A relatively high viewpoint was also chosen, apparently to afford a good overall survey of the objects, which are arranged side by side, or in a circle, hardly ever touching or overlapping. The precious drinking vessels and pieces of textile show very clearly that the arrangement is that of a privileged household.

In accordance with etiquette, fruit, pies, nuts and confectionery were served as a dessert. Cheese, which had a central role in Gillis’s and van Dijck’s art, was also part of the dessert. Gillis and van Dijck build up pyramids of hard cheese in two or three layers: at the bottom there is half a large cheese with a rich, yellow hue, indicating that it is still very young, while on the top the cheeses are smaller and more brownish, almost grey in colour, showing that they are older and more mature. The irregular traces of cuts with a knife – the only piece of cutlery on the table – are rendered extremely well.