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Work Still-life with Candlestick

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Still Life with Candlestick

© 2004 RMN / Franck Raux

Flemish painting

Michèle Perny

The son of a Haarlem landscape painter, Barend van der Meer doubtless began his early training and career in his father's studio. Later, he settled in Amsterdam as a pupil of Juriaen van Streek, and specialized in still-life paintings such as this Still-life with Candlestick. The picture is clearly influenced by the work of Willem Kalf and Juriaen van Streek, and has frequently been attributed to one or other of these two artists.

An inspired still-life

A wooden table with barley-twist legs and a carved edge (visible to the left of the picture) is covered by a fringed carpet with Oriental motifs. The table is laid with a diverse array of objects, including a silver candlestick, and a plate of bread and cheese in the center, placed on a white cloth in front of a large glass cup filled with lemons. An upturned pot lies between the glass and the candlestick. To the right of the picture, a dish edged with repoussé-work gadroons holds two lemons and an apple. A shaft of light falling from the left plays on the spiral forms of the candlestick, the upturned jug, and the central plate. The rays are filtered through the water in the elegant stemmed glass cup, and scattered in sparkling reflections on the fluted dish propped up on the right of the composition. The semi-darkness in the background creates a play of chiaroscuro traversed by the shaft of light, heightening the picture's soulful, spiritual atmosphere. The original picture has been cut and re-inserted into a larger canvas.

Symbolic simplicity

This carefully-composed still-life is characterized by its refined, sober atmosphere, its deep, warm tonalities, and its masterful rendering of light. Its meditative atmosphere is an invitation to contemplation and reflection. The picture is both an elegant demonstration of painterly skill, and a repository of religious symbolism. The items depicted here are deliberately arranged so as to invite the viewer to look beyond their everyday, material signficance, to the spiritual world they invoke. The painting has a mystical dimension, clearly expressed by objects reminding us of the ephemeral nature of life (the candle), the presence of the Eucharist, the hope of redemption (the broken loaf of bread), and the bitterness of earthly existence (symbolized by the lemons and the apple, the fruit of Eve's temptation in the Garden of Eden). This impalpable, symbolic, poetic imagery encourages us to examine the timeless truths that lie beyond the painting's superficial depiction of the material world.

A double significance

Still-life paintings in Holland at the end of the 17th century often functioned as a clear expression of religious humanism, delivering a message above and beyond the simple pleasure afforded by these finely-painted depictions of basic or luxurious foodstuffs and objects. The religious teachings of the time encouraged the notion that riches accumulated thanks to trade and economic growth were nothing more than futile objects of pride – vanities, in the literal sense. The concept of vanitas became an integral aspect of the iconography of still-life painting. Paradoxically, however, the painters' technical virtuosity scaled new heights, vying with the pictures' spiritual content to attract the viewer's attention and admiration.

Technical description

  • Attributed to Barend van der MEER (Rotterdam, 1659? - ?, 1692-1702)

    Still Life with Candlestick

  • H. 0.82 m; W. 1.01 m

  • Bequest of Dr. Louis La Caze, 1869 (as Kalf) , 1869

    M.I. 937

  • Paintings

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