Nov. 6 Art Minute: Jan Davidsz. de Heem, ‘Still Life with a View of the Sea’

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Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Dutch, 1606–1684), Still Life with a View of the Sea. Oil on canvas, 1646. 23 3/8 by 36 1/2 inches. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1955.33. Gallery 23.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Dutch, 1606–1684), Still Life with a View of the Sea. Oil on canvas, 1646. 23 3/8 by 36 1/2 inches. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1955.33. Gallery 23.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem presents a luscious meal painted with such mouth-watering detail that we can see the knife marks on the sliced ham and want to feel the dimples on the lemon (but please don’t!). The placement of the table suggests that we have just pulled up a chair and are ready to eat. The array of foods, the engraved silver beaker and mustard pot, and the velvet tablecloth and curtain create the effect of abundance and restrained luxury.

The original owner of this painting probably would have enjoyed it primarily for its striking visual qualities. However, the seascape suggests that a 17th-century viewer may have also appreciated the painting on a different level. A ship tossed on a stormy sea was a traditional symbol of the soul journeying through the hazards of life. The sun breaking through the clouds to highlight the church spire points to the path of salvation. The meal, therefore, may represent the earthly temptations of the senses, which should only be enjoyed in moderation if the soul is to reach its destination safely.


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