Capers in 17th century still life paintings
As part of a series on “Capers in Art”, this ( first ) article focuses on
17th century still life paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters of the Golden age
like Jacob van Es, Maerten Boelema de Stomme and Willem Claesz. Heda
STILL LIFE WITH MEAT PIES, A ROAST FOWL, OLIVES, CAPERS AND STRAWBERRIES IN BLUE AND WHITE PORCELAIN BOWLS, A TAZZA WITH GRAPES, A ROEMER FILLED WITH WINE, A CERAMIC JUG AND OTHER ITEMS, ALL ON A WOOD TABLE
Jacob Foppens van Es, Jacob Fopsen van Es or Jacob van Es (c. 1596 Antwerp – 1666 Antwerp) was a Flemish Baroque painter who was known for his still-lives mainly of food and occasionally flower paintings. He collaborated with other artists on garland paintings. Together with Osias Beert and Clara Peeters, he was one of the leading representatives of the first generation in Flemish still-life painting.
Biographical data about Jacob Foppens van Es’ life are scarce. In 1617 he became a master of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. The fact that he was not registered as a pupil with the Guild before becoming a master, indicates that he likely trained outside Antwerp.
Van Es was a succesfull painter. His success as an artist is testified by evidence that works of his were recorded in many 17th century Antwerp collections. Even the inventory of the leading Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens included two of his works.
“Jacobus van Es, painter who excels in fruit, fish, birds and flowers which he renders very well as nature he lives in Antwerp where he was born”
About 125 of his works have been handed down. As he did not generally date his works, it is impossible to identify the chronology or evolution in his work. Hence, it is impossible to date the work in question
Jacob Foppens van Es painted mainly still lives and in particular still lives of food. They typically depict fruit, fish, lobster, oysters, mussels, cheese, ham, bread, olives, lemons and oranges together with objects such as glassware, pitchers and silver. Some of these food items are local, while others like olives, lobster, lemons and oranges are imported.
The painting featured here includes capers which are not native to Flanders. This is a strong indication of the fact capers were already known in early 17th century Flanders.
The Dutch ( which now comprises both the Netherlands and Flanders ) loved paintings. The 17th century was an age where paintings were not solely the possession of the wealthy. Many different types of people could afford paintings and as a result a wide variety of genres were painted. Many paintings contained wine related items or people, or cheese, or olives. Few however feature capers. This might be an indication few people were familiar with capers.
Sotheby’s records show the Jacob van Es still life was last auctioned on January 30th 2016 for 4,375 USD, far below its original estimate of between 7,000 and 10,000 USD. The paintings value, once restored, might well exceed the selling price.
” SOLD WITHOUT RESERVE PROPERTY OF A DESCENDANT OF ROBERT FINCK.”
Robert Finck was an art gallery in Brussels, established on January 1st 1968 as a ‘dealer in antiquities’. The gallery specialized in 17th and 18th century paintings as can be derived from its exhibition catalogs published and distributed at the occasion of major art fairs.
Records show the gallery ended its activities on June 11th 1992, probably as a direct consequence of the death of the owner, Robert Finck. Since the painting was sold 24 years later by a descendant of Robert Finck, it can be assumed the painting had remained in the family as part of the inheritance.
It is unknown when, from whom Robert Finck acquired the painting and for how much. The identity of the current owner has not been revealed either.
A STILL LIFE WITH A HALF-PEELED LEMON ON A PEWTER DISH, A DRIED FISH WITH
CAPERS, A WINE GLASS, ROEMER, TRIANGULAR SALT CELLAR AND A NAUTILUS-SHELL CUP
ON A TABLE COVERED WITH A DARK CLOTH AND WHITE NAPKIN
Maerten Boelema de Stomme (1611 in Leeuwarden – after 1644 in Haarlem), was a Dutch Golden Age painter.
This still life painting shows ‘a half-peeled lemon on a pewter dish, a dried fish with capers, a wine glass, roemer, triangular salt cellar and a nautilius-shell cup on a table covered with a dark cloth and white napkin’.
It’s the perfect witness of the life style and the food items available in the Netherlands during the Golden Age. The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, roughly spanning the era from 1581 (the birth of the Dutch Republic) to 1672 (the Rampjaar, “Disaster Year”), in which Dutch trade, science, and art and the Dutch military were among the most acclaimed in the world.
In the Dutch Golden Age, the meals of the middle class consisted of a rich variety of dishes. During the 15th century haute cuisine began to emerge, largely limited to the aristocracy, but from the 17th century onward dishes of this kind became available to the wealthy citizens as well. The Dutch Empire enabled spices, sugar, and exotic fruits to be imported to the country. By the late 17th century, tea and coffee consumption were increasing and becoming part of everyday life. Tea was served with sweets, candy or marzipan and cookies. A rich Dutch mealtime of the time contained many extravagant dishes and drinks.
Since capers start appearing on Dutch 17th century paintings, it is beyond any doubt they were part of the products imported from the Mediterranean.
The origin of the painting
The last selling records of the painting are from Sothebys. It originally belonged to Christian Albrecht, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (1641-1695), during the period in which he was Bishop of Lübeck (1655-1666) (his wax seal on the reverse). Records also show the painting was part of a Private Collection in Germany at the time it sold.
“the initials on the wax seal of Christian Albrecht, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (1641-1695), which is affixed to the reverse of the panel, read C A D G E L H. M. Dux which stands for C[hristian] A[lbrecht] D[eo] G[ratia] E[piscopus] L[übeck] H. M. Dux. Thus this work was acquired by him during his period as Bishop (‘Episcopus’) of Lübeck from 1655-1666. In 1667, on 24 October, he married Princess Friederike Amalia (1649-1704), daughter of King Frederik III of Denmark.”
It is very unlikely more than one copy of the painting exists. It appears to be sold on April 9th 2005, then again on December 8th of the same year, and on April 24th 2008. The differences between the paintings sold in 2005 on the one hand and the one sold in 2008 might be attributed to restoration of the painting in between the 2 or maybe 3 sales.
I have been looking carefully at the 37 works of Maerten Boelema de Stomme on Artnet, but this is the only painting featuring the mediterranean caper.
The painting sold for 38,900 GBP in 2008.
Not much is known about the painter Willem Heda (1594-1680). He lived in Haarlem all his life and in 1631 became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, in which he held various positions. At the beginning of his career, Heda made a number of figure studies, but later he only painted still lives.
Heda was considered the master of the expression of matter and the reflection of light on smooth and shiny materials, such as pewter, glass or a copper candlestick. He often used the same objects in his paintings, which are also referred to as “banquets” or “breakfasts”.
This painting, dated 1630, is an exquisite example of Heda’s early refined banquet pieces (ontbijtjes). Heda is thought to have painted these relatively simple compositions only from 1629 onwards. This panel has all the characteristics of the ‘Monochrome Banketje‘, which dominated the genre of still life painting in the early to mid 17th Century and of which Heda, along with Pieter Claesz (1597/8-1660/1), became the foremost exponent.
Restrained in composition, subdued in palette and withdrawn in mood, this painting is typical of Heda’s work in the 1630s. A variant of this composition, also dated 1630, but excluding the loaf of bread and replacing the hazelnuts with a walnut, was with Noortman, Maastricht, by 1993.
Numerous elements, in particular the roemer, decorated with droplets, and the façon de Venise glass, appear repeatedly in Heda’s still lifes, such as the work of 1634 in Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (inv. no. 1286).
‘The present work is marked by the presence of the extraordinarily detailed gold pocket-watch. Precious objects such as this are an example of Heda’s interest in examining the effects of light on a variety of different surfaces and which became the hallmark of his personal style. The light is breaking in on the roemer, clearly revealing the contours of Heda’s studio window, but is also reflected in the façon de Venise glass and in the lid of the watch, which in turn is beautifully reflected in the silver platter. Even the inlaid mother of pearl in the checkered blade of the knife, is subtly and gently touched by the light.’
This is one of Heda’s earliest ‘Monochrome Banketjes‘, and its design is thus relatively simple. He would continue the monochromatic theme in his work of the 1640s onwards, but the extreme serenity and the modest composition of the works such as this would soon make way for a far richer and more luxurious approach, reaching a high point in the 1660s.
Personally, I find it strange to see capers appear in a breakfast scene. Does this mean capers were part of breakfast? I see no other food item the caper would accompany. Now capers are often used in combination of cream, cheese, butter, fish.
The Painting as a museum piece
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, has 4 works of Willem Claesz. Heda on display, one of them in the Hall of Fame. Last auction records by Sothebys show the painting here sold for 312,750 €, more than the estimate of 200 – 300,000 €.
Anonymous sale, Amsterdam, Frederik Muller, 14 May 1912, lot 122; Frans Smulders; His sale, The Hague, Gallerie Royale, 9 November 1937, lot 2; Where bought by the father of the present owner.
Niigata, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, 7 October – 30 November 2003; Toyohashi, City Museum of Art and History, 6 December 2003 – 18 January 2004; Sakura, Sakura City Museum of Art, 24 January 2004 – 7 March 2004, Dutch art in the age of Frans Hals from the collection of the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, cat. no. 55;
Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum, 27 November 2004 – 3 April 2005; Zurich, Kunsthaus, 21 April – 21 August 2005; Washington, National Gallery of Art, 18 September – 31 December 2005, Pieter Claesz.: Meester van het stilleven in de Gouden Eeuw;
Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum, from 1998 until 2008, lent by the present owner.
Three outstanding paintings by three of the Golden Age’s most prominent still life painters. With one thing in common: the caper ! It’s not just cookbooks who give as an insight in a certain produce available in a certain time period. The fact capers appear in these 17th century paintings are a clear indication that
- capers were already imported from the south in the 17th century
- capers occupied a prominent place on breakfast tables alongside luxury products like Venician glass, wine roemers, olives, gold watches…
This is an independently written story and the opinions are my own. The technical guidance on how to run an affiliate website comes from Wealthy Affiliate and I might get a commission if you buy through certain links.