(b. 1508, Amsterdam, d. 1575, Amsterdam)

Market Scene

Oil on oak, 127 x 85 cm
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

This Market Scene - a painting in vertical format - shows a column of sea food on the left, building up and culminating in a ray and - directly opposite, on the right - a large number of fruits of the field and the garden. Wedged between this enormous abundance of produce, the farmer and his wife appear to be mere appendages whose job is only that of proudly pointing with silent gestures to the victuals that are on offer.

The ostentatious wealth of fruit and vegetables in the market scenes of Aertsen and Beuckelaer may lead to the false conclusion that the population had plenty to eat. But although more was being offered on the markets, this did not meet the demands of the urban population, who had to pay exorbitant prices for agricultural produce in comparison to what they actually earned. And so, the horn-of-plenty motif of these market pictures reflects far more the perception of those who benefited, that is, the newly-rich farmers. In this way the artist emphasized the commercial aesthetics of agricultural products from the farmers' fields and gardens, products that were meant to arouse in the viewer the desire to buy, though not in the sense of present-day advertising.

However, this does not exclude the possibility of ambivalent reasoning behind such paintings. While stimulating people's cravings and appealing to their needs, they often contained a subtle element of criticism, particularly in Aertsen's biblically motivated pictures. This criticism concerned the contradiction between people's consumer habits and the demand of temperance ("fasting"). While this critical element was still obvious in Aertsen's paintings, it seems to have disappeared almost completely in Beuckelaer's.

This painting has a multiple theme. The abundance of the market could be at the same time a representation of the Four Elements and an allegory of the Five Senses. Also the market woman is being pestered by a bird-catcher, who is gripping a duck round the neck with obvious erotic overtones - as well as a realistic representation. The painting is also a moral lesson, extolling moderation and restraint in contrast to the physical and sensual pleasured offered, for instance, in the plumpness of the fruit. In other paintings Aertsen introduced a religious scene in the background by way of admonition.