BEERT, Osias the Elder
(b. ca. 1580, Antwerpen, d. 1624, Antwerpen)

Still-Life with Cherries and Strawberries in China Bowls

Oil on copper, 50 x 66 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The composition of this dessert still-life represents an early phase of this genre. The picture shows two precious Chinese porcelain bowls from the Wan Li dinasty (1573-1619) - modern import products at the time - filled with strawberries and cherries, as well as a pewter plate full of olives, and several goblets. The surface of the table seems tilted in an old-fashioned way so as to allow an unobstructed view of the various luxury objects which have been depicted with hard precision and without atmospheric density.

We are looking at the last or penultimate course of an eight to nine-course banquet. The knife in the foreground, still largely the only piece of cutlery at the time, was shared by all the participant of the feast. The dragonfly and the butterfly add an emblematic dimension to this everyday motif. The artist shows the forces of good and evil fighting for man's soul in the form of animals. The human soul is represented by strawberries and cherries, which were considered to be fruits of Paradise. The butterfly, as a symbol of salvation and resurrection, is in opposition to the dragonfly which was seen as a subspecies of the common fly. Flies were considered to be creatures of the devil.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.