A descriptive account of Jan Davidsz de Heem's "Still Life with Fruit and Oysters", paying particular attention to the organisation and lighting of the composition and to effects of tone and colour.

Essay by caelestisUniversity, Bachelor's June 2006

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The still-life shows a tabletop half draped with rich pieces of fabric. A metal plate holds oysters. One appears to have fallen on the table alongside some prawns and a stem of berries. Empty shells are seen toward the rear. Around the plate are placed a crusty bread loaf and various fruits including a halved peach still containing the pit. Another gold plate contains some cherries. There is a tall gold vessel, two glasses containing liquid, one of which has blackberry prunts. A long leafy stem of peaches lies across the arrangement. An orange has been partially pealed with the peal dangling from the fruit over the edge of the table. A pocket-watch is placed to the side of the arrangement. The arrangement has a bias to the right of the painting. The background is dark and indistinct but swathes of fabric can be seen suspended above and behind the table.

Everything shown is of excellent quality and the painting creates an impression of luxury and wealth.

The rim of the closest wineglass is at eye level. Taking this as the level of horizon, the table edge points to a central vanishing point. The spectator is sitting at the table looking straight into the composition with the front of the table close enough to reach.

Shadows indicate a light source from the left foreground. Reflections can be seen on the wineglass and metal vessel. The glassy surfaces of the cherries and plums glisten in the daylight emphasising the impression of quality. Gradual merging of colours can be seen on the peaches combining with shadow to create an effect of roundness. The tonal range of the picture is very wide causing dramatic contrasts. The dark background directs the viewer's attention to the various objects. Close individual items appear distinct and very...