Though modest in size and compass, this still-life painting by Jacob van Walscapelle has a remarkable sense of grandeur. Assembling only a few objects on a plain stone ledge, the artist has conveyed a monumentality of presence usually found in much larger and more complex still lifes. Bathed in soft light, every figural element quietly asserts its essential properties. The Venetian-style glass filled with wine sparkles against the somber dark background. The pomegranate bursting with seeds invites the viewer to imagine its ripe taste, as do the grapes spilling over the edge. In addition to their simple beauty, these items are also part of a long iconographic tradition within still-life painting. The grapes and wine evoke the Eucharist, while pomegranates have complex associations with Christ’s suffering and the Resurrection. In this sense, Van Walscapelle's painting encourages the viewer to contemplate Christ's sacrifice and eventual rebirth.
Van Walscapelle was an accomplished still-life painter, though little is known about the trajectory of his career. Born in Dordrecht in 1644, he established himself in Amsterdam in 1673 and remained there until the end of his life. His approach to still-life painting relates to that of Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606–1684), who similarly relished in the complex and versatile beauty of the visible world. Van Walscapelle’s work nevertheless differed from De Heem’s mature paintings in its compositional restraint and elegant simplicity
Though modest in size and compass, Jacob van Walscapelle’s Still Life with Fruit has a remarkable sensuality and monumentality of presence. The artist’s touch is fresh, his brushstrokes fluid, and his color sense unerring, making the image both inviting and accessible. Bathed in soft light, every figural element quietly asserts its essential properties. The elegant eight-sided façon de Venice glass filled with white wine sparkles against the dark background, as light accents its complex, delicate form. One can almost taste the ripe pomegranate bursting with red seeds, the hazelnuts, and the purple grapes that seemingly spill over the edge of the stone table into the viewer’s space.
Van Walscapelle clearly took great care in the creation of this arrangement, for iconographic as well as compositional reasons. All of the pictorial elements have associations with Christian ideas of death and resurrection. Grapes and wine are infused with the symbolism of the Eucharist. The symbolism of the partially opened pomegranate is more complex but no less profound. The red arils represent Christ’s suffering, but when planted they grow, and hence they also have associations with the Resurrection. The many arils contained within an outer skin also represent the unity of the Christian church. By carefully wrapping the stem of the grape vine around the pomegranate, Van Walscapelle suggested the overarching theme of death and resurrection as conveyed by these various compositional elements. The filberts (hazelnuts) at the lower left edge of the stone table—one within its husk, one partially within its husk, and one with its husk removed—carry other important associations. As Sam Segal has noted, medieval exegetes gave the three components of this nut—its husk, its shell or pod, and its edible inner core—symbolic significance. The husk was compared to Christ’s suffering on the cross, the shell to the strength of his all-embracing divinity, and the sweet kernel to the eternal truths of his teachings.
Sam Segal, A Fruitful Past: A Survey of the Fruit Still Lifes of the Northern and Southern Netherlands from Brueghel till Van Gogh (Amsterdam, 1983), 36.
Little is known about the trajectory of Van Walscapelle’s artistic career, but he seems to have been influenced by the paintings of
Creating a harmonious composition was highly valued in the seventeenth century and reflected an artist’s ability to conceive a work with houding. See Paul Taylor, “The Concept of Houding in Dutch Art Theory,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 55 (London, 1992): 210–232.
Many of the objects in this painting, including the wineglass, pomegranate, and grapes, are found in other of Van Walscapelle’s works, although generally in the midst of a more complex arrangement. The artist may have made studies of these objects that he reused in different combinations, and he almost certainly purchased the glass as a prop, since it appears in another of his paintings.
The identical glass and a similar bunch of grapes appear, for example, in a tabletop still life (oil on canvas, 49 x 41.5 cm) in Silvano Lodi, Ausstellung Alter Meister (Munich, 1969), no. 4.
Pieter C. Ritsema van Eck and Henrica M. Zijlstra-Zweens, Glass in the Rijksmuseum, 2 vols. (Zwolle, 1993), 1:15, note that “visitors could see glasses welche den Venedischen mit nichten weichen” or just as beautiful as the glass made in Venice. See Filips von Zesen, Beschreibung der Stadt Amsterdam (Amsterdam, 1664), 211.
A fascinating element of this painting is the bubbly appearance of the white wine. Whether or not this quality was Van Walscapelle’s original intent, however, is difficult to determine. Many of the apparent “bubbles” are created by small pits in the paint, possibly caused by lead soap aggregation, a condition that may have developed years after Van Walscapelle painted this work.
For a discussion of lead soaps in a painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem, see Arie Wallert and Joris Dik, “The Scientific Examination of a Seventeenth-Century Masterpiece,” Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung 21, no. 1 (2007): 38–51, and Leslie Carlyle and Maartje Witlox, “Historically Accurate Reconstructions of Artists’ Oil Painting Materials,” Tate Papers, Spring 2007 (http://www.tate.org.uk/research/tateresearch/tatepapers/07spring/carlyle.htm).
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right on ledge, in brown paint: J:Walscappel / 1675
(Etienne Le Roy, Brussels). William Tilden Blodgett [1823-1875], New York. (L. Souty Fils, Paris). (Julius H. Weitzner, Inc., New York). G. Huntington Hartford, II [1911-2008], New York; (sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, 12 December 1956, no. 34); (Newhouse Galleries, New York); sold to Jean McGrail, New York; by inheritance to her daughter; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 25 January 2001, no. 219); (Berenberg Fine Art Limited, Isle of Man); purchased 11 June 2001 through (Rob Smeets, Milan) by NGA.
- Probably Exposition de tableaux et dessins d'anciens maîtres, La société néerlandaise de bienfaisance, Brussels, 1873, no. 339 (supplement of the catalogue's second edition).
- The Painters of Still Life, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 1938, no. 24, as The Pomegranate.
- Decamps, Louis. "Correspondance". Gazette des Beaux-Arts 8 (September 1873): 278 (probably the NGA painting).
- Société Néerlandaise de Bienfaisance. Exposition de tableaux et dessins d'anciens maîtres. 2nd ed. Exh. cat. Société Néerlandaise de Bienfaisance, Brussels, 1873: probably no. 339 (catalogue supplement).
- Wadsworth Atheneum. The Painters of Still Life. Exh. cat. Wadsworth Atheneum. Hartford, 1938: no. 24.
- Bol, Laurens J. Holländische Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts nahe den grossen Meistern Landschaften und Stilleben. Braunschweig, 1969: 377 n. 488.
- Vroom, Nicolaas R. A. A Modest Messageas Intimated by the Painters of the "Monochrome Banketje." 2 vols. Schiedam, 1980: 2:317.
The painting was executed on a panel made from a single board of oak with a vertical grain. The back of the panel is beveled along all four edges. The ground is rather thin and does not fully obscure the heavy wood grain. It appears white through most of the cracks and losses, but under the fruit it looks gray. The gray color may indicate an underpainting, or Walscapelle could have painted the gray stone ledge without leaving reserves for the fruit. The paint was applied mostly wet-into-wet, but details and highlights were applied wet-over-dry. Impasto is located only in the brightest highlights.
The painting is in excellent condition. Tiny pitting is visible in the paint, especially in the wine. This may have been caused by lead soap aggregation. A few small, flake losses are located in the paint of the pomegranate. Inpainting is found along the front edge of the stone table, and along the right edge of the glass of wine. Under ultraviolet light, remnants of an earlier varnish can be seen along the top and left edges and in the wine glass.
 Steve Wilcox, head of frame conservation at the National Gallery of Art, characterized the wood based on visual examination of the panel and the X-radiographs.
Related IconClass Terms
- symbols and prefigurations
- vanitas still life
- nuts +used symbolically
- vegetables and fruit
- glass of wine
- still life
- trompe l'oeil
- artist +Jan Davidsz. de Heem + influence of