Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This is a still life painting. Still life paintings depict natural (usually nonliving) or human-made objects. This type of painting was successful in the Netherlands in the 17th century.
- Artists often created still lifes to show off their painting abilities. Van der Ast painted different objects and small insects to demonstrate his skill and attention to detail.
- Still lifes can also tell us things about religion, politics, or society. In the 17th century, the Dutch developed successful colonization and trade efforts. This painting shows natural and human-made objects from locations around the world.
- Van der Ast used natural elements as symbols in his paintings. He depicted fruits and flowers in different stages of ripeness to represent how short life is.
- Chinese porcelain known as Kraak ware was often depicted in Dutch paintings from this time period. Kraak ware, also called Kraak porcelain, was made in China and exported to Europe. It became a luxurious and popular product in the Netherlands.
Seashells, carefully observed insects and fruits, and rare flowers testify to the 17th-century Dutch fascination with the natural world. An extreme manifestation of this curiosity was tulipomania, when collectors spent huge sums to acquire individual tulip bulbs such as the one that produced the hybrid striped variety in the center foreground of this still life.
The shells are depicted with such exactitude that they can be identified as species from seas off the coasts of the East and West Indies and Africa. These and the Chinese porcelain are evidence of the extensive trading and rapidly expanding sphere of Dutch merchants.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article about Dutch trade in Asia.
- Read an article about still life paintings in the Netherlands.
- Read an article that explores the term “Dutch Golden Age.”
Resources for Students