Comparatively few details are known of van Ravesteyn’s life. He was baptized in Dordrecht in 1638 and appears to have worked there his entire life. His early works are barn interiors with peasants and animals and fruit and vegetable still lifes set within kitchen interiors that recall the works of Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681), with whom he may have trained. By the 1660s, however, his still lifes become more refined and feature luxurious objects like the velvet tablecloth trimmed with gold, costly wan-li porcelain bowl imported from China, and precious knife with an ebony and ivory handle atop a marble ledge in the present painting. The orange, too, would have been a luxury item from afar, as the etymology of its Dutch name—sinaasappel (‘Chinese apple’)—makes clear.
This supremely elegant composition bathed in cool light and set against a dark background likely finds its origins in the so-called ‘tonal’ phase of Dutch landscape painting first developed by artists like Pieter Claesz (c. 1597-1660) in Haarlem in the 1630s. While such monochrome still lifes had largely run their course by the 1660s, in Dordrecht, a city removed from the principal artistic centers of Holland, van Ravesteyn succeeded in imbuing them with new life through his crisp execution and use of strong local colors. Van Ravesteyn’s characteristic precision is evident in the rendering of minute details like the gold fringe of the rug and the variegated walnut shells in the present painting, while his keen sense for surface texture is evinced by details such as the woody husk around the meat of the exposed walnut, the nubby orange peel, and the variant effects created by light reflecting off the stoneware jug and the glass roemer.
Whether van Ravesteyn intended to convey and contemporary viewers understood any symbolic content in still lifes such as the present painting is an open question. However, the few surviving comparable paintings—including an exceedingly similar one sold, Christie’s, London, 3 December 2013, lot 4 ($358,000)—suggests that they must have enjoyed enormous appeal among his Dordrecht patrons.