Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

Hello Friends! I’m out of town this week visiting Chicago. Since I haven’t been doing any cooking and have decided to not take pictures in restaurants anymore, I thought I’d share a few food-related images from my visit this morning to Chicago’s Art Institute.

I love studying these still lifes—especially the four from the 17th century—because they provide a glimpse at life before processed food. The vegetables are wild and beautiful with their uneven contours, and the dead game is a solemn reminder that meat didn’t always come wrapped on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed in the hundreds of years since these still lifes were painted: mankind’s fascination with and celebration of food.

Cotan Still Life with Game Fowl 1602

Juan Sanchez Cotan: Still Life with Game Fowl (c. 1602) What variety of fowl! These four birds trump the generic chicken and turkey I eat.

Snyders Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market 1614

Frans Snyders: Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market (1614) The abundance of this painting reminds me an “I Spy” book. Do you spy the pickpocket?

Claesz Still Life 1625

Pieter Claesz: Still Life (1625/1630) A lavish banquet: the lemons, olives, sweetmeats and tableware are luxuries only the wealthy could have afforded.

Barbieri Kitchen Still Life 1640

Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri: Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640) I was drawn to the simplicity of the foods in this painting: a basket of chestnuts, two wheels of cheeses, almonds, currants and mushrooms—the offerings of the land.

Renoir Fruits of the Midi 1881

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Fruits of the Midi (1881) Renoir probably painted these colorful peppers, eggplant, citrus and pomegranates while traveling along the Midi, the Mediterranean coast.

Harnett For Sunday's Dinner 1888

William Michael Harnett: For Sunday’s Dinner (1888) In person, this painting looks eerily realistic. My queasiness, however, turned to delight as I realized this naked bird was going to be Sunday’s Dinner.


3 Thoughts on “Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food

  1. Beautiful paintings. Love the suggestion that the table is the cook’s canvas.

  2. Hi Andrea,
    Love your blog and the recipes look yummy. I stumbled across your site while doing research for a 17th century still life we received as a wedding gift. Maybe you could help point me in the right direction if I send you a pic of the painting? Thanks :)

    • andrealein on October 16, 2010 at 10:50 PM said:

      Hi Kim! Glad you like the blog–let me know if you try any of the recipes. :) The painting sounds like a really lovely wedding gift. I should clarify that I do not have a background as an art historian—the paintings above were simply paintings I liked and took pictures of while visiting a museum in Chicago. If you’re curious about learning more about your painting, I think there are many more much more qualified people than me to help you. Good luck!

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