FA102: Art From the Renaissance to Modern Times Paper #2—Jan Jansz den Uyl, Breakfast Still Life with Glass and Metalwork Breakfast Still Life with Glass and Metalwork is an oil on panel produced by Jan Jansz den Uyl, an artist of the Dutch Baroque period. The painting is dated around 1637-39 and measures 130.5 x 115.5cm. It depicts a disarray of objects—pewter, goblets, plates and unfinished food—strewn across the tabletop on top of a piece of rumpled white linen. Although it may seem like an ordinary still-life painting, the artist attempts to convey a hidden message to the audience through his careful selection and arrangement of the subject matter. This essay will explore how den Uyl ...view middle of the document...
Continuing the traditional style of the Northern Renaissance, den Uyl presents a still life painting with extreme attention to detail. This is evident in the depiction of the Venetian glasswork and the handle of the pewter, where the artist has included his signature. “Den Uyl” means “owl” in Dutch, which is portrayed on the pewter’s handle.1 Small drops of water are also evident on the metallic surface, which serves to highlight the artist’s skillfulness. Typical of Northern European paintings, Den Uyl also conveys the tactility of a wide range of materials. Using oil paint as medium, the artist is able to illustrate the reflection of light on metallic surfaces, a critical device for successfully differentiating metal from glass. A close view of the painting reveals that the reflections are tiny dots of white paint that blends in naturally with the rest of the image when viewed at a distance. Den Uyl’s depiction of glass also reveals a great deal of mastery, especially the half-empty glass on the right end of the table by showcasing it in three states; he illustrates the semi-transparent liquid within and contrasts the glass against the black cloth as well as the wall in the background, embodying three facets of glass in one. The sleek surfaces of these objects contrast with the pliability of the white linen, whose creases and folds are naturalistically conveyed. The Northern European style remains steadfast, but its pictorial content has shifted dramatically. During the 17th century, Calvinism became the dominant approach to Christian life in Northern Netherlands; as a result, little religious art were produced. Meanwhile, the Dutch economy enjoyed great prosperity due to Amsterdam’s rising importance in international trade and banking. This prompted the emergence of urban middle-class merchants and manufacturers,
Museum label for Jan Jansz den Uyl, Breakfast Still Life with Glass and Metalwork, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 16 April 2011.
whose newfound wealth also promised political power due to the absence of a monarchy.2 These two historical conditions gave rise to vanitas paintings, where artists could express their concern for the spiritual while displaying the patron’s acquired luxuries without explicitly including any religious imagery. Den Uyl has injected a memento mori in Breakfast Still Life with Glass and Metalwork and provides various clues to the audience in hopes of communicating his intentions. His use of earth tones appropriately constructs a somber atmosphere for this vanitas painting. The viewer is met with a disarrangement of various dining paraphernalia scattered across the table and the lack of...