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de jonckheere old masters

Cornelis Mahu

Still life with an orange on a pewter plate, a porcelain pitcher, a glass, bread and a box of tobacco on a table

Panel: 31 x 45,5 cm
Circa 1620-1630

introduction

In the late 1620s, the still life of the Northern school developed a new form under the influence of the painters of the Haarlem school, Pieter Claesz and Willem Claesz Heda. They inspired numerous Antwerp painters including Cornelis Mahu, who, in this astonishing composition, presents us with his version of the "monochrome banquets". This Still life with an orange on a pewter plate, a porcelain pitcher, a glass, bread and a box of tobacco on a table, with its subtle play of diagonals and monochrome palette, reveals the full extent of this painter’s artistry.

A painter of genre scenes and landscapes, Mahu devotes himself to the still life with great verve, reviving realism in the place of artifice. The judicious choice and arrangement of the items that accent this still life, from the Roemer to the crust of bread, the upset glass and the knife, to the cut orange on the pewter dish are all elements that lend a decidedly Haarlem school flavour to this painting. Although organised in a rhythmic fashion, this banketje, captures the spectator’s eye with vibrant contrasts of light (chiaroscuro). The reflection of the orange in the pewter dish neatly dramatizes the scene which at first sight may be read as an interrupted meal, whilst the subtle light accents emphasise the contours of the glass, the pitcher, the candle wick and the tobacco box.

Imbued with an implicit suggestion of vanitas, this banketje displays the majority of the symbols of the still life genre: the cut orange, the segment of which evokes the passing of an earthly life that is bitter in essence, and fleeting when it is not combined with a higher spiritual reality, and the burning candle wick that inexorably measures time and the finitude of our material and sensual aspirations.

This Still life with an orange on a pewter plate, a porcelain pitcher, a glass, bread and a box of tobacco on a table is a brilliant illustration of the virtuosity and multifaceted talent of a painter who was equally adept in landscape painting and genre scenes. A perfect example of the spirit that informed the Haarlem school in the 1630s, this painting will delight the most devoted enthusiasts of the Northern still life. In fact, from the year 1640 onwards Mahu adopts a distinctly more baroque style, abandoning the models of Claesz in favour of the opulence of the table settings by Jan Davidsz de Heem and his Antwerp contemporaries.

Provenance :
Private collection, Germany