food in the arts


HEDA, Willem Claesz. (b. 1594, Haarlem, d. 1680, Haarlem)/ ARTISTS BEFORE 1650/ ART MAIN original lfff site
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Dutch still-life painter, active in Haarlem. He and Pieter Claesz. are the most important representatives of "ontbijt" (breakfast piece) painting in the Netherlands. His overall grey-green or brownish tonalities are very similar to those of Claesz., but Heda’s work was usually more highly finished and his taste was more aristocratic. He showed a preference for ham, mince-meat pie, and oysters, and after 1629 never included a herring in his pictures. His son Gerrit (d. 1702) was his most important pupil. literature and food
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   Die Maler (Achtschellinck bis Heda), Bd 1 –
  The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century –

Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie

Oil on wood, 54 x 82 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

     The Embarrassment of Riches: an Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age –

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.

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 the early 1630s Heda began to use the compositional structures developed by Nicolaes Gillis and Floris van Dijck. Unlike those artists, however, he placed the white tablecloth on the left or right-hand edge of the table, so that the middle of the table is not covered and is no longer symmetric. In subsequent ‘banketjes’ (banquet pieces), the tablecloth was pushed further and further aside – as early as 1638 in Heda’s paintings – until it was actually crumpled. Whereas for quite some time food was shown as almost untouchable, precious and just for display, increasing traces of consumption are now visible. The objects were no longer merely intended to embody status-defining values, but became evidence of spontaneous acts which disrupted the festive structures of the framework.

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