Known as ‘de Stomme’ (the mute), the Friesland native Maarten Boelema was recorded in Haarlem as a pupil of Willem Claesz. Heda in 1642, the year this picture was painted. His known dated works span a mere two years, 1642-44, during which time he painted still lifes that were markedly influenced by Heda and Haarlem artists like Pieter Claesz. and Gerret Willemsz. Heda, with whom he shared a particular interest in the depiction of hams, tazzas and roemers. The overturned nautilus cup in this picture was evidently a popular prop in Heda’s studio during this period, making numerous appearances in his works of the early 1640s, including Still life with a nautilus cup dated 1640 (Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen).
In this sumptuously laid spread, a white linen cloth, smoothly arranged at left and rumpled at right, dominates the table laden with food and serving pieces. A large carved baked ham sits in a pewter dish behind an overturned nautilus cup and two further pewter platters, on which rest a lemon, ham and knife, balance precariously at the edge of the table. A roemer with white wine, a façon de Venise, a bread roll and mustard pot complete the composition. By virtue of its monochromatic palette and simple foodstuffs, this picture would likely have been called an ontbijtje (a breakfast piece) were it not for the large ham in the center of the composition. So popular was the ham motif in still lifes, that seventeenth-century inventories frequently listed works that included them as hammetjes. This spit-roasted, rosy ham would have been prepared for smoking in November, the slaughter month, and by the middle of January would have been cured, washed, dried and hung from a beam in the kitchen, ready for use. As is so often the case in Dutch still life painting, the items on the table could have also be seen to represent broader and more complex ideas, with viewers who preferred the picture’s more religious connotations associating the bread roll and wine with the Eucharist, and others recognizing the items as local, perhaps even patriotic, products.