Acclaimed for his innovative still-life paintings, 17th-century Haarlem artist Pieter Claesz created works that harmoniously unite a subdued palette and refined level of detail with complex underlying themes. The present work depicts a table laden with rich foodstuffs and valuable objects, including a ham on a pewter plate, wild strawberries in a Chinese porcelain bowl and an oversized wine glass, or roemer. Also on the table are elaborate pieces of metalwork such as a pewter mustard jar, pocket watch and gilt-silver statue in the form of Bacchus. This statuette is a bekerschroef, a type of decorative base upon which a glass is attached. Despite their apparent realism, the items represented in the scene do not replicate a typical 17th-century Dutch meal. Rather, Claesz selected them for their formal qualities and significance for the contemporary viewer. Through the inclusion of the pocket-watch, this work evokes vanitas themes such as the brevity of life and the meaninglessness of worldly possessions. The glass roemer could allude to the wine of the sacrament--particularly when paired with the bread nearby--or provide a warning against drunkenness. Yet, even as Claesz's viewers absorbed these moralizing messages, they would have appreciated his ability to brilliantly capture the rich and varied objects represented.
This work may be an example of Claesz's artistic collaboration. While N.R.A. Vroom attributes the present work entirely to Claesz (Vroom 1980, loc. cit.), Fred Meijer suggests that the middle portion is certainly by Claesz, but that the outer elements, such as the mustard jar, may be the work of another hand (private communication, 9 October 2013). Meijer suggests that the inscription on the pocket watch, traditionally read as '1646', is in fact '1640'. Dr. Martina Brunner-Bulst also proposes the possibility of multiple hands, adding that the original composition may have originally been extended at the upper edge (private communication on the basis of photographs, 19 November 2013). Technical examination, however, reveals that the entire work was painted concurrently. If the work is indeed a joint effort of Claesz and another artist, a likely candidate is Haarlem still-life painter Roelof Koets (1592[?]-1655), a documented collaborator of Claesz (see D.R. Barnes and P.G. Rose, Matter of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch art and life, exhibition catalogue, Syracuse, 2002, no. 31). Koets created several works with similar compositions, and represented the distinctive Bacchus goblet holder in its entirety, with a glass attached at the top, in multiple pictures (see Sotheby's, New York, 6 June 1985, lot 80; and Sotheby's, London, 12 October 1983, lot 65). Of the Koets/Claesz collaboration, Vroom writes, "their masterly technique makes it nearly impossible to indicate the line where both hands meet" (Vroom, 1980, loc. cit. pp. 178-180; nos. 415, 418).