Work A Table of Desserts
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
A Table of Desserts
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
A masterpiece of de Heem's Antwerp period, where he moved in 1635, and very probably his earliest still life. A large work rich in symbolic references to worldy vanities and with a moral message. Matisse copied the painting and turned its skillful decorative arrangement to good account.
A synthesis of Dutch precision and Flemish Baroque
Elaborate still lifes of lavish meals in this genre were highly fashionable at the time. The table is piled high with luxurious glass and tableware, a variety of food and fruit, and a half-eaten pie. A lute and a recorder are resting against the table. De Heem has in fact given considerable thought to their seemingly disorderly arrangement. Largely trained in Utrecht and Leyden, he had been living in Antwerp for five years when he painted this picture, in which he achieves a brilliant synthesis of Dutch precision and Flemish Baroque.
From his initial apprenticeship, he retained a taste for rendering matter and textures, which he sublimates with skillful light effects: the softness of the dark green velvet, the metallic glint of the tableware, the delicate transparency of the glass, the velvety skin of a peach, or, in contrast, shriveling lemon peel. The composition, however, is directly inspired by the Baroque style of disciples of Rubens such as Frans Snyders: the theatricality of the large mauve curtain, the crumpled drapery, and the decorative abundance on the brink of imbalance.
A moral message
A curious meal indeed: a mixture of glasses of wine, fruit from different seasons, and musical instruments. A decorative opulence that de Heem further enriches with the symbolism he had explored during his time in Leyden. Some of the fruit evokes Christian values: cherries are considered a fruit of Paradise, peaches and apples embody the forbidden fruit, grapes symbolize redemption, and the bread and wine are clear references to the Eucharist. The food is surrounded by strong symbols frequently found in "vanitas" still lifes. The lute and recorder on the left recall that the pleasures of the senses, those of the ear and the table, are as ephemeral as music itself. Our attention is also subtly drawn to the blue watch strap on the edge of the table, an evocation of time's fleetingness and a symbol of the moderation to observed in the face of sensual pleasures. The globe in the top right corner, theatrically unveiled by the curtain, recalls the scope of this universal moral.
From Louis XIV to Matisse
Jan Davidsz de Heem played an important part in the development of the still life in Flanders and Holland. The picture was widely acclaimed after its purchase by Louis XIV. Its skillful disorder and happy blend of colors and textures also fascinated the young Henri Matisse, who copied the picture in 1893 then painted his own, highly personal variation in 1916-17 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).
BibliographyMirimonde Albert Pomme de, "Un dessert allégorique, par Jan Davidzoon de Heem", in Le Langage secret de certains tableaux du musée, p.93-94, Paris : Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1984.
Mirimonde Albert Pomme de, "La Musique dans les oeuvres hollandaises du Louvre. II, Natures mortes", in La Revue du Louvre, 1962, 4, p. 175-184.
Le Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, catalogue de l'exposition, Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, 1970, Paris : Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, p.95-96.
Jan Davidsz. de HEEM (Utrecht, 1606 - Antwerp, 1683-84)
A Table of Desserts
H. 1.49 m; W. 2.03 m
Collection of Louis XIV (acquired from Eberhard Jabach, 1662)
Flanders, 17th century
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