The Triumph of Bacchus
Old Master Paintings
|Medium, technique||oil on oak|
63.6 x 88.3 cm
|Collection||Old Master Paintings|
|On view||This artwork is not on display|
As if the table had been cut out of the previous Velázquez picture, in the Dutch Pieter Claesz.’s still-life adopts the same tricks of the trade: the knife protruding over the edge of the table (to create the illusion of space), the crisply ironed white tablecloth with a sharp crease, and the virtuoso contrast in the quality of matter – shiny against matt, greasy against dry, hard against soft. The similarity is by no means coincidental, since formally both pictures derive from the same tradition: that of portrayals of the Last Supper, Jesus’s farewell to his disciples and the institution of the Eucharist. The still-life is thus awash with religious connotations, and these associations are reinforced by various traditional Christian symbols (bread and wine, the vineshoot entwined around the wineglass, and the cruciform window frame reflected in the surface of the glass).
Though born in Antwerp, Pieter Claesz. was one of the ‘most Dutch’ painters. No other images better epitomized the puritan, Protestant national character than his simple ‘Lenten still-lifes’. This ensemble of bread, wine, fruit and pie is not among his most ascetic compositions. The extravagance of the forsaken fruit pie signals the futility of earthly plenty, thus introducing a secondary layer of symbolic reference. Yet the overall mood is quiet and restrained, and this is mostly due to one indispensible component of Claesz.’s painting: he dulls the colours until he attains an almost monochrome palette.