ZURBARÁN, Francisco de
(b. 1598, Fuente de Cantos, d. 1664, Madrid)
Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose1633
Oil on canvas, 60 x 107 cm
Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena
In the oeuvre of Zurbarán, religious themes predominate, with particular emphasis on asceticism. He also painted many still-lifes, which, however, reflect the same qualities of asceticism, quiet contemplation and introversion for his choice of objects indicates the transience of human life.
Zurbarán does not do so by presenting a clock, a skull or an hourglass. Instead, on a brilliantly polished table, he shows us a pewter plate with lemons, a basket of oranges complete with leaves and blossoms, and a fine china cup on a silver saucer on which lies a rose in full bloom. Though lemons signify wealth in a Netherlandish still life, they have a very different meaning here, in the country where they actually grow. Even so, they are not represented as the fruits of daily life, but presented with all the solemn celebration of an offering on an altar.
As in the paintings of his contemporary Sánchez Cotán, Zurbarán isolates the individual objects from one another - even the composition appears to be a conscious though not excessively artificial arrangement. Against the dark background, the objects are completely static, and appear to be torn out of the context of everyday life. The human beings to whom they apparently belong have no place here.