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Still Life with fish, a candle, artichokes, crab and prawns
Peeters, Clara
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Peeters, Clara

Antwerp (?), 1588 - Antwerp (?), 1621

Peeters, Clara See author's file

Still Life with fish, a candle, artichokes, crab and prawns

1611. Oil on panel.
Room 082

On what appears to be a wooden table or ledge we see boiled crabs and shrimp, several freshwater fish (two carp, a roach, possibly several ide, and a northern pike), a dark glass goblet, a brass candlestick with a partially burnt but flameless candle, a copper strainer with a brass skimmer and two artichokes, and a Rhenish stoneware jug. Reflected on its lid is a self-portrait of the artist with a large headpiece. It was very rare for painters to incorporate their own image in a painting at this time. The fact that Peeters did so (in this and at least seven other paintings) shows her will to be acknowledged, probably because of the difficulties involved in being a woman artist. This is one of Peeters’s most carefully executed works. The rhythmic contrast between rounded and jagged shapes (as in the colander and the artichoke) and between patterns (in the surface decoration of the stoneware jug and the scales of the fish and holes of the colander) is characteristic of her art.

An infrared image of the painting shows how she carefully made adjustments to the composition. The eye of the fish closest to the lower right corner of the painting has been moved down slightly, elevating our viewpoint. The holes that dot the copper strainer, next to the stem of the artichoke, have been moved slightly during a second stage. The artichokes in the skimmer and the dark glass cup to the left were painted after the dark background had been applied. This type of adjustment is characteristic of the artist. Painted in red on the back of the oak panel are the letters G and A superimposed, which identifies Guilliam Aertssen as the maker of the panel. Two documents from 1612 and 1617 demonstrate that he worked in Antwerp. This is important because the city where Peeters based her career is uncertain; it was probably Antwerp.

This painting, and Still life with Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells, also in the Prado (P1619), are very likely the same as two paintings that are first documented when they were inventoried in the royal palace in Madrid (known as the Alcázar) in 1666, with no attribution; they are described simply as two paintings, ‘one of fish and the other of birds’. What are probably the same paintings were attributed to Peeters in the royal inventories after 1734.

This is the earliest dated fish still life that is known – perhaps the earliest that was painted. It shows that Clara Peeters was an innovator, as does her very dedication to painting realistic still lifes, a new genre at the time. Approximately ten fish paintings by Peeters are known, which means that she became somewhat of a specialist in this type of still life. Fish was a very common food in the Southern and Northern Netherlands, because of the extensive coastline of the region, and because of the many rivers, creeks and ponds. It was also favoured by the restrictions on eating meat imposed by church authorities and custom, which could extend to three days a week. It is often impossible to determine if still life paintings from the time of Clara Peeters have a symbolic meaning or not. It has been suggested that this scene represents the element of water, and that it is part of a series of the four elements. This is based on the belief that this and three other paintings now in the Prado (P1619, P1620, P1622) formed a unified series from the start. But we now know that this was probably not the case. As seen above, this painting and Still life with Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells (P1619) are paired in the documents from the seventeenth century, but the other two Prado paintings did not arrive in the royal collection until the eighteenth century. Also against an allegorical interpretation of this painting is the fact that it is always described in the royal collection as a painting of the objects depicted, and not as a fable or allegory, as was the case with other pictures in the same collection. This suggests that this was not seen as obviously, or primarily, metaphoric.

What contemporaries valued in pictures of this type was their illusionism and notions associated with their display that owners wished to be identified with, such as taste, position, education and the like. We don’t know why Peeters in this painting combined fish with the other elements. The unlit candle is often a reference to a vanitas theme: the inevitable passing of time. It is unclear if it has that meaning in this case, but it does add a temporal quality to the image; it makes us feel as if awaiting action. The other elements may simply reflect what the artist saw as appealing objects that could be combined for artistic effect. Artichokes seem to have interested Peeters and her contemporaries; she included them in several of her works, and they are also common in paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625) and Frans Snyders, among others. This food had been a rarity until the second half of the sixteenth century, and was commonly considered an aphrodisiac. In 1599, for example, an English commentator wrote that they ‘please the taste: provoke urine and Venus’. By around 1600 artichokes had become common – common enough for Caravaggio to become involved in a brawl in Rome in 1604 after complaining about how they were cooked in a restaurant, and also for a book published in Liège in the same year to state that artichokes were among the ‘herbs & greens that are needed for the kitchen’. There are a number of works of art where artichokes figure rather prominently, we don’t know if as aphrodisiacs or simply on account of their unusual and interesting shape. In Arcimboldo’s Allegory of Summer of 1573 (known in several versions) a figure made of fruits and vegetables wears an artichoke on its chest. In a scene from Abraham Bosse’s engravings Les Cinq Sens, of c. 1638, an elegant couple sits at a table to dine on a single item of food: an artichoke.

(Text from Vergara, Alejandro (ed.), El Arte de Clara Peeters, Madrid y Amberes, Museo Nacional del Prado, Koniklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 2016, pp. 96-99)


Technical data

Inventory number
Peeters, Clara
Still Life with fish, a candle, artichokes, crab and prawns
Height: 50 cm; Width: 72 cm
Royal Collection ([¿]Real Alcázar, Madrid, Pieza larga segunda pieza de las bobedas a donde su magestad comia de verano, 1666, s.n.[?]; [¿]Real Alcázar, Pieza larga de las bobedas, 1686, s.n.[?]; [¿]Real Alcázar, Pieza larga de las bobedas, 1701-1703, nº374[?]; Real Alcázar, Pinturas que se llevaron a la Armería, 1734, nº171; Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Pinturas enttregadas en dhas Casas Arzobispales a Dn Santiago de Bonabia, 1747, nº171; Palacio Nuevo, Madrid, Retrete del Rey, 1772, nº171; Palacio Nuevo, Pieza de paso a la de vestir, 1794, nº171; Palacio Nuevo, Dormitorio de Principes Pieza novena, 1814-1818, s.n.; Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, Madrid, Salón 2º Escuela Flamenca, 1834, nº425)

Bibliography +

Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier y Beroqui, Pedro, Inventarios Reales en 12 Volumenes y Un Indice (Fotocopias) (procedencia/provenance), Madrid, 1923.

Harris, Ann Sutherland y Nochlin, Linda, Women Artist : 1550-1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1976, pp. 32-33.

Decoteau, Pamela Hibbs, Clara Peeters: 1594-ca. 1640 and the development of still-life painting in northern Europe, Luca Verlang, Lingen, 1992, pp. ill. 5, pp. 18, 20.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado : catálogo razonado, Prensa Iberica, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 802-803.

Anes, Gonzalo, Las colecciones reales y la fundación del Museo del Prado, Amigos del Museo del Prado, 1996, pp. 194.

Seipel, Wilfried, Das Flamische Stillleben 1550-1680, Luca Verlag Lingen Kunsthistoriches, Wien, 2002, pp. cat. 75, pp. 230-31.

Aterido Fernández, A.; Martínez Cuesta, J.; Pérez Preciado, J. J., Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio: inventarios reales, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2004.

Helmus, Liesbeth (ed.), Fish: still lifes by Dutch and Flemish masters, 1550-1700, Central Museum, Utrecht, 2004, pp. cat. 5, pp. 20-21, 223.

V.V.A.A, Von Schönheit und Tod : Tierstillleben von der Renaissance bis zur Moderne, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Berlín, 2011, pp. cat. 13, pp. 172-73.

Lenders, A, 'Clara Peeters pone la mesa. Objetos y alimentos ante la mirada de un espectador del siglo XVIII' En:, El arte de Clara Peeters, Museo Nacional del Prado, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten., Madrid, Amberes, 2016, pp. 48-65 [54].

Vergara, Alejandro, El arte de Clara Peeters, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2016, pp. 96-99 n.8.

Vergara, A, 'Reflejos de arte y cultura en los cuadrod de Clara Peeters' En:, El arte de Clara Peeters, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten , Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2016, pp. 12-47 [17,35].

Buvelot, Q.B, 'Clara Peeters. Fish still life with candlestick' En:, Slow Food: Dutch and Flemish Meal Still Lifes, 1600-164, Mauritshuis ; Waanders,, 2017, pp. 158-161 n.16.

González García, Carmen, Repetición y renovación. Un comentario sobre la pintura de objetos y cosas a porósito de la obra de Clara Peeters, Liño, 24, 2018, pp. 45-57 [53 f.3].

Jover de Celis, Maite, Las marcas de fabricación como herramienta de datación en los soportes de madera de la pintura flamenca del siglo XVII en el Museo del Prado, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXVII n 55-57, 2019-2021, pp. 96-109 [Tabla II p.104, p.107].

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. [¿]374[?].
[¿]Pieza larga de las bóvedas [...] 374 / Item otros dos vno de pesca y otro de aves de tres quartas de largo y dos de alto con marcos negros tasados a quince doblones[?]

Inv. Felipe IV, Alcázar de Madrid, 1666. Núm. [¿]s.n.[?].
[¿]Pieza larga y en la segunda pieza de las bobedas a donde su magestad comia de verano [...] Otros dos uno de pesca y otro de aves de tres quartas de largo y dos terzias de alto a Doscientos Rs de plata cada uno[?]

Inv. Felipe IV, Alcázar de Madrid, 1686. Núm. [¿]s.n.[?].
[¿]Pieza larga de las bobedas [...] Otros dos, vno de Pesca, otro de Aves de tres quartas de largo y dos terçias de alto.[?]

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1387.
Clara Peeters / 1387. Bodegón. / Hay peces y un candelero. (Tabla.) / Alto 1 pie, 9 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 2 pies, 7 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1387.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1528.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1621.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1621.

Inv. Felipe V, Buen Retiro, 1747. Núm. 171.
Pinturas enttregadas en dhas. Casas Arzobispales a Dn Santiago de Bonabia [...] 171 Ottra [tabla] de dos tterzias de largo y Media vara de alto de diferentes Pescados su autor Clara Papis en seteztos y Vte rs.

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. 171.
Pinturas que se llevaron a la armeria [...] 171 / Vna tabla de dos tercias de largo y media de alto de diferentes pescados su autor Clara Papis

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 171.
Retrete del Rey [...] 171-269 / Dos tablas iguales de diferentes pájaros y peces de vara de largo y dos tercias de caída su autora Clara Papis

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 171.
Pieza de paso a la de vestir [...] 171-269 / Dos de vara escasa de largo y dos tercias de alto el vno con pescados y el otro pajaros sobre una mesa = a quinientos rs.

Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, 1834. Núm. 425.
Salón 2º Escuela Flamenca [...] Cuatro cientos veinte y cinco. Bodegón con varios pescados y un candelero sobre una mesa compañero al nº231

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
Dormitorio de Principes [...] Pieza Novena [...] {21777} Vara de largo dos tercias de alto caza con un mochuelo = trastos de cocina y pesca = Clara P.

Inscriptions +

CLARA. P. Aº. 1611.
Inscribed in black. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in black. Back, central area

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed with chalk. Back, Upper area

Po No 171/ Bodegon
Inscribed in pen and black ink. Back, Upper left area

GA [Guilliam Aertssen, 1611]
Panel maker mark. Back

Exhibitions +

Slow Food: Still Lifes of the Golden Age
La Haya
09.03.2017 - 25.06.2017

The Art of Clara Peeters
25.10.2016 - 19.02.2017

Clara Peeters
16.06.2016 - 02.10.2016

Death and Beauty. Animal Still-Life from the Renaissance to Modernism
19.11.2011 - 19.02.2012

Fish: Still-lifes in the Netherlands 1550-1700
26.05.2004 - 08.08.2004

Fish: Still-lifes in the Netherlands 1550-1700
07.02.2004 - 09.05.2004

Das Flamische Stilleben - El bodegón flamenco
01.09.2002 - 08.12.2002

Das Flamische Stilleben - El bodegón flamenco
18.03.2002 - 21.07.2002

Location +

Room 082 (On Display)

Update date: 04-11-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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