(b. 1566, Olomouc, d. 1638, Frankfurt am Main)

Still-Life with Bread and Confectionary

Oil on wood, 21,7 x 17 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

In the culinary culture of the aristocracy and the patrician middle classes, banquets consisted of six to eight - sometimes even nine - courses and were always concluded by a dessert. Interest in desserts came to a climax at a time when numerous delicacies had been introduced as new luxuries. This was especially true for sugar confectionary, which appeared in still-lifes around 1600 for the first time. The introduction of sugar marked a radical revolution of taste. Initially it was only used for pharmaceutical purposes, but it soon replaced honey as a sweetener and a food.

The crystalline structure of the candied sugar was rendered especially accurately by Georg Flegel in his confectionary still-life. His painting shows candied fruit on a table in the foreground, including two figs on the right, encrusted with large sugar crystals. Some of the fruits have been cut up in the shape of letters, for example a large 'O' can be made out as well as a crumbled 'A' beside the loaf of bread. A straight piece of sugar is lying across the loaf like a cross-beam and is being approached by a disproportionately large bee. The earthenware bowl with the blue pattern contains candied fruit dusted with icing sugar, and a brimstone butterfly, whose wings also show traces of sugar, has alighted on it.

Flegel added a religious dimension, because the seemingly innocuous arrangement is full of Christian allusions. For example, the letters 'A' and 'O' (Alpha and Omega) as the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are a reference to Apocalypse 1:8 and 21:6, where Christ is referred to as the beginning and the end. The cross formed by the loaf and the piece of sugar emphasizes this aspect even further. Finally, as a reminder of the Eucharist, there is the bread and wine in the dainty glass, with decorations resembling amphora handles which drop down in the form of grape-like clusters at the bottom. The redemptive work of Christ is called to mind by the butterfly, an ancient symbol of the human soul as well of the resurrection, as new life comes forth from a seemingly dead chrysalis. The heart on the right is a specially shaped piece of bread, made from communion wafer dough, and is apparently meant to remind the viewer of the heart of Christ.

In Flegel's art, sugar has entirely taken over the religious connotations of honey, which was understood as a symbol of 'spiritual sweetness' during the Middle ages.