(b. 1619, Rotterdam, d. 1693, Amsterdam)
Still-Life with a Nautilus Cup1662
Oil on canvas, 79 x 67 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
One of the most characteristic types of painting in Holland in the seventeenth century was still-life which was brought to a higher level of refinement there than anywhere else in Europe. Some still-lifes have symbolic meanings - the vanity of earthly wealth - but others, including those of the greatest practitioner of this genre, Willem Kalf, seem to be simply pronkstilleven, lavish displays of ceramics, glassware, gold and silver vessels as well as exotic food. They reflect a new willingness of rich Dutchmen to parade their possessions, an attitude which would have been frowned upon by an earlier, more puritanical generation.
Kalf was born in Rotterdam and probably trained in the studio of François Ryckhals in Middelburg, a town with a long established tradition of still-life painting. Subsequently he lived for some years in Paris where he met Flemish still-life artists, whose painterly style softened the linearity of Kalf's earliest manner. Kalf returned to Rotterdam but settled in Amsterdam in 1653 with his wife Cornelia Pluvier, a distinguished glassengraver, poetess and musician. In the following year Kalf was praised by the poet Jan Vos as one of the city's leading painters: he was much sought after by prosperous citizens anxious to record their treasures. This particular painting includes a richly decorated nautilus cup and a Wan-Li bowl, which were no doubt prized possessions of the unknown Amsterdammer who commissioned the still-life.