This large-scale work by Cornelis de Heem work exemplifies the sumptuous still-life painting for which the De Heem family is celebrated. From a Flemish family of artists, Cornelis was born in 1631 in Utrecht, where his father Jan studied with the gifted still-life painter Balthasar van der Ast. After the family moved to Antwerp in 1635, De Heem trained with his father, who by that time had become one of the preeminent still-life painters in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. The present work dates from around 1658, during the period in which Cornelis was working closely with his father in Antwerp. Later Cornelis returned to the Dutch provinces: he is recorded in Utrecht in 1667, IJsselstein in 1676, and thereafter in The Hague.
Moving between the Northern and Southern Netherlands throughout their careers, the De Heems produced still-lifes such as this one, which contain the minute naturalistic detail associated with Dutch pictures as well as the flamboyance and dramatic abundance popular among Flemish artists. In this work, the table overflows with fruits, vegetables, shellfish, and a succulent ham. While the grapes and wine arguably evoke the Eucharist, the overall spirit of the scene is one of material wealth and excess. The material goods, such as the finely wrought metal-work, silk-covered box, and wan-li dish exude wealth and exoticism, while the musical instruments evoke the entertainment that would accompany a luxurious meal. Some elements in the picture were well established in Dutch still-life painting: the ham on the bone can be found in the works of Willem Heda from the 1630s. Nevertheless, the overall impression of splendor is unmistakably evocative of the De Heem family.
Cornelis clearly looked to the work of his father in creating this picture. It contains many of the same elements, including the tazza, recorder, cut of meat, and blue box with keys as a still-life from Jan Davidsz. de Heem's Antwerp period now in the Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Kunste, Vienna. Like the elder De Heem's work, the purpose of this painting is not merely to depict carefully every item in the picture individually, but also to integrate them into an attractive whole. Moreover, De Heem used the incredible range of rich objects to harness the themes of abundance and material richness, while simultaneously showcasing his artistic virtuosity. In a departure from Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Cornelis painted with a brighter palette visible in the vibrant blue of the box and yellow of the lemon peel. His father nevertheless remained a key component of this picture: the wax seal on the blue box bears the inscription 'JDHE'.
We are grateful to Fred G. Meijer at the RKD, The Hague for confirming the attribution to Cornelis de Heem and proposing a date of 1658 (private communication, 24 October 2011).