BRAY, Joseph de
(b. 1628/34, Haarlem, d. 1664, Haarlem)
Still-Life in Praise of the Pickled Herring1656
Oil on oak, 57 x 48,5 cm
Fish still-lifes developed as a category during the seventeenth century - not an astonishing phenomenon when we recall that fishing, particularly for herring and cod, was a mainstay of the Dutch economy. A notable exponent of the type is Abraham van Beyeren. As the Dutch love for flowers, their love for seafood is proverbial. The Haarlemer Joseph de Bray, son of Salomon and brother of Jan, celebrated this taste in his picture, dated 1656, dedicated to the apotheosis of the pickled herring.
Resting behind the large, succulent herring and other objects in the painting's foreground, there is an elaborate tablet, draped with a festoon of herrings and requisite onions, inscribed with a poem by the Remonstrant preacher and poet Jacob Westerbaen: 'In praise of the Pickled Herring' published in 1633. After telling of the herring's delight to the eye, palette, and its other qualities, Westerbaen adds that consumption of it 'Will make you apt to piss/And you will not fail/(With pardon) to shit/And ceaselessly fart...' - proof, if it is needed, that plain profane messages are as likely embodied in Dutch paintings as spiritual ones. The painting was evidently a success. In the following year he painted another, somewhat larger still-life, now in Aachen, dedicated to the same subject. It includes the text of Westerbaen's verse dedicated to the pickled herring, and a brief passage from his poem 'Cupido' on the page of an open folio accompanied by an ample display of herrings and onions.