National Gallery of 
Art    
Still Life 
feature navigation Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder Luis Meléndez Raphaelle Peale   Previous Page Next page
Still Life    
       
Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase by 
Bosschaert
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase, 1621, oil on copper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons' Permanent Fund and New Century Fund 1996.35.1
  Still Life with Figs and Bread by  Melendez
Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, 1760s, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund 2000.6.1
  A Dessert by Peale
Raphaelle Peale, A Dessert (Still Life with Lemons and Oranges), 1814, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz Jr. in memory of Franklin D. Murphy 1999.44.1

Choose one of the paintings above to explore the different meanings still life has taken on throughout history.

 

 

Introduction

Today we take the idea of still life for granted: an arrangement of fruit, flowers, and beautiful objects seems like a natural subject for a painting. But this was not always the case. Still life emerged as an independent subject around 1600, when a growing interest in the natural world led to its simultaneous appearance in northern Europe, Italy, and Spain. Ever since, it has played a prominent role in the history of art.

From its inception, art theorists derided still life as a "lowly" genre—artists merely copied nature without using their imagination. Indeed, still life paintings often closely imitate reality. But they frequently also contain many deeper meanings. Religious, economic, scientific, and political beliefs and associations may all be embedded in a single image of flowers or fruit.

 



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