MIERIS, Frans van, the Elder
(b. 1635, Leiden, d. 1681, Leiden)
A Meal of Oysters1661
Oil on wood, 27 x 20 cm
Mauritshuis, The Hague
Oysters in the late 17th-century Dutch paintings were generally interpreted as erotic - vaginal - symbols. Here, however, they still had the religious symbolism of shell, with the meaning that had been given to it in a 3rd-century Christian book on animals called 'Physiologus.' Describing the behaviour of animals in 55 chapters, it then relates them to Christian doctrine. The shell is symbolically likened to Mary who gave birth to the 'pearl of great price,' Jesus.