(b. 1530, Antwerpen, d. 1574, Antwerpen)

Market Woman with Fruit, Vegetables and Poultry

Oil on oak, 118 x 171 cm
Staatliche Museen, Kassel

Beuckelaer was Pieter Aertsen's nephew, and he painted similar market scenes. He frequently discarded the biblical scenes the presence of which is characteristic in Aertsen's market scenes. This painting presents a typical example. Here the market woman almost becomes an accessory to the over-abundant baskets and bowls containing a rich variety of fruit and vegetables that reach right up to the upper edge of the painting. In this way the artist tries to show the impressive quantitative results of the new agricultural methods. The greenish-purple iridescence of the cabbages, with their bizarre curls and wrinkly whirls, bears witness to improvements in fertilization, and the abundance of different kinds is meant to show the large number of refinements and crosses between the different fruits.

The picture expresses an ambivalence towards this opulent fruitfulness, offering a criticism of the covetousness awakened by the sight of it, such a moral purpose being an integral element of the aesthetic presentation of the foodstuffs depicted. The offering of a bird was an unmistakable reference to carnal love (the word vogelen, which also has the sense of 'to bird', meaning 'to copulate'); cabbage was considered a symbol of the feminine, being traditionally served at weddings and, eaten with oil, it was also used as a kind of contraceptive, while carrots and gherkins were associated with the phallic and masculine. The other fruits, too, can be understood as metaphors for the whole gamut of feelings of love and lust. In displaying all these foods, the painting is a warning against carnal desire, lack of inhibition and excess.