Artwork of the Week: de Ring’s Still-Life with Lobster

Still-Life with Lobster

I originally studied this piece in an Art History class my freshman year. The level of detail and beautiful lighting initially grabbed my attention, but when I looked further, I found the work even more interesting. It is rich with symbolism of wealth, mortality, and sensuality.Still-Life with Lobster

Pieter de Ring (Dutch, ca. 1615-1660)
Still-Life with Lobster, ca. 1650
Oil on canvas.
IU Art Museum 73.22

This Dutch still-life, created circa 1650, illustrates an  abundance of food and fine dishware that screams wealth. While the plums and cherries are not uncommon to this area, the grapes, melons, oranges would have been imported making them less affordable. The seafood was much more abundant in this area at the time, and therefore not a luxury like it is today. The fine cloths, ornate glass, and imported Chinese chafing dish, and the ring next to the oranges are all luxuries the wealthy might own.

However ornate, the overripe, almost spoiled food stresses the immediacy of which this food needs to be eaten. At first glance this food looks magnificent. It appears luscious and juicy. Look closer, and you see the age of the oranges, the mold on the lobster, and the brown-grey color of the plums. This combined with the very subtle African Grey parrot picking at cherries in the shadows suggests mortality and the relative importance of certain luxuries, which is a theme often portrayed in vanitas paintings. Overall, I see the almost-spoiled food and dark color palette along with the parrot as a mockery about the relative importance of these luxuries in life. The sliced melon and oysters could also indicate a sensual theme.

I find this painting alluring and interesting. It is hauntingly beautiful at first glance and then continues to hold my attention when I focus in on the details and rich symbolism of the work. Whenever I visit the gallery I spend time sitting in front of this work studying its intricate detail and almost always find something I didn’t notice before. Works like this one are special to me, because I every time I study it closely I can find something new. There is so much to look at and analyze in this painting, which constantly reminds me why I love to study and learn about art.

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