In still-life painting, particularly in seventeenth-century Netherlandish art, mimetic and illusionistic realism is extreme and refined, but it does not exhaust the meaning of the painting. Beneath their material covering of canvas, wood panel, images, and colors, the things depicted in these paintings conceal precise and encoded symbolic values—and, by their very nature, symbols connect what is visibly represented to what is invisibly absent; thus grapes allude to the blood of Christ or oysters to sexual pleasure. The vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, game, fish, and shellfish in these pictures are all things painted for the pleasure and enjoyment of people. They appear suspended between their ephemeral or recently extinguished life and their death, between their solid visible form and the evanescent perspective of their imminent dissipation or decomposition. They testify at one and the same time to the pleasures of life and the desire to take advantage of those pleasures before it is too late, to the fulfillment of all five senses and their progressive weakening, to happy moments and their passing, and to the usefulness and beauty of everyday goods and their transitory nature.
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