food in the arts




(b. 1566, Olomouc, d. 1638, Frankfurt am Main)

German painter. He acquired citizen’s rights in Frankfurt in 1597 and stayed there until he died. He worked a lot together with the Fleming Lucas van Valckenborch. Flegel is considered to be the most important representative of early modern German still-lifes. He specialised in so-called meals, banquet, breakfast and flower still-lifes.

film and food  

literature and food 

music and food

Still-Life with Bread and Confectionary photography and food
Die Aquarelle von Georg Flegel
Georg Flegel. 1566 – 1638. 

German food

Still-Life with Bread and Confectionary

Oil on wood, 21,7 x 17 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

In the culinary culture of the aristocracy and the patrician middle classes, banquets consisted of six to eight – sometimes even nine – courses and were always concluded by a dessert. Interest in desserts came to a climax at a time when numerous delicacies had been introduced as new luxuries. This was especially true for sugar confectionary, which appeared in still-lifes around 1600 for the first time. The introduction of sugar marked a radical revolution of taste. Initially it was only used for pharmaceutical purposes, but it soon replaced honey as a sweetener and a food.

The crystalline structure of the candied sugar was rendered especially accurately by Georg Flegel in his confectionary still-life. His painting shows candied fruit on a table in the foreground, including two figs on the right, encrusted with large sugar crystals. Some of the fruits have been cut up in the shape of letters, for example a large ‘O’ can be made out as well as a crumbled ‘A’ beside the loaf of bread. A straight piece of sugar is lying across the loaf like a cross-beam and is being approached by a disproportionately large bee. The earthenware bowl with the blue pattern contains candied fruit dusted with icing sugar, and a brimstone butterfly, whose wings also show traces of sugar, has alighted on it.

Flegel added a religious dimension, because the seemingly innocuous arrangement is full of Christian allusions. For example, the letters ‘A’ and ‘O’ (Alpha and Omega) as the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are a reference to Apocalypse 1:8 and 21:6, where Christ is referred to as the beginning and the end. The cross formed by the loaf and the piece of sugar emphasizes this aspect even further. Finally, as a reminder of the Eucharist, there is the bread and wine in the dainty glass, with decorations resembling amphora handles which drop down in the form of grape-like clusters at the bottom. The redemptive work of Christ is called to mind by the butterfly, an ancient symbol of the human soul as well of the resurrection, as new life comes forth from a seemingly dead chrysalis. The heart on the right is a specially shaped piece of bread, made from communion wafer dough, and is apparently meant to remind the viewer of the heart of Christ.

In Flegel’s art, sugar has entirely taken over the religious connotations of honey, which was understood as a symbol of ‘spiritual sweetness’ during the Middle ages.





Still-life with Parrot

Oil on copper, 78 x 67 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
The very Netherlandish-looking bouquet of flowers with tulips, carnations, roses and narcissi, is as superbly painted as the silver vase ornamented with golden mascarons in which it has been placed. The different qualities of silver, gold and pewter, their various degrees of brilliance, hardness and finish have been rendered in painstaking detail. The heavy pewter plates are juxtaposed with an elegant, fine-rimmed silver dish and a golden-lidded chalice bearing a fine statuette of Mars. The blade of the knife at the edge of the table, the dish of hazelnuts, the lid and edge of the brown earthenware jug – all are variations on the artist’s theme.

The display of foodstuffs seems less impressive at first glance, and arranged almost at random. Everything seems to be arranged by pure chance, so much so in fact that an allegorical interpretation seems unlikely. Though the composition may appear purely cumulative, it is nevertheless precisely calculated, especially in the masterly distribution of colour highlights.