HEEM Jan Davidsz. de
Jan Davidsz. de Heem was one of the greatest Dutch still-life painters of the 17th century. It is thought that he was taught by Balthasar van der Ast (1594-1657) in Utrecht, before he became acquainted with the vanitas still lifes in Leiden in 1626. The objects depicted in these paintings, such as books, clocks, musical instruments and skulls, were symbolic of the transience of human life. In 1636, Jan Davidsz. moved to Antwerp and became a citizen of the town in 1637. Despite prolonged absences, he retained his citizenship until his death in 1683/ 84. Among his most talented pupils was his son Cornelis de Heem (1631-1695).
Jan Davidsz. had a fascinating way of presenting his opulently laden tables: fruits, flowers, precious objects and a variety of animals are skilfully placed and decoratively arranged. In his still lifes, the artist combined the Dutch chiaroscuro of warm tones with the lively colouristic splendour of Flemish art. No matter how exquisitely the individual objects were depicted, they were invariably subordinated to the painting's overall message.
Still Life, Breakfast with Champaign Glass and Pipe
On a wooden table with a gathered table cloth, exquisite tableware and costly fruit are arranged in a classic triangular composition. The finely engraved gold goblet next to the Venetian champagne glass or the cut lemon, which stimulates the senses of the beholder with the juiciness of its flesh and the plasticity of its peel, testify to Jan Davidsz.'s outstanding qualities as a painter. The colours are delicately shaded and he has a refined command of light.
Affluent purchasers regarded such paintings as expensive pieces of decoration designed for their pleasure and moral edification. The riches pictured by Jan Davidsz. indicate a wealthy owner. The glowing fuse, the pipe or the overturned rummer, on the other hand, are symbols of vanitas or in other words admonitory references to the impermanence of earthly life. The broken bread and the grapes symbolise the Eucharist in the Christian liturgy. The oysters are an example of the diverse meanings that can be communicated by one and the same symbol: on the one hand they stand for the Virgin Mary, who shelters Jesus Christ within her like a precious pearl and, on the other hand, they have erotic connotations.
Gabriele Groschner, Thomas Habersatter, Erika Mayr-Oehring (Ed.): Masterworks. Residenzgalerie Salzburg. Salzburg 2002, p. 18