Alexander Coosemans | Flanders 1627-1689 | (Still life) c.1650 | Oil on canvas 58.2 x 83.5cm | Bequest of The Hon. Thomas Lodge Murray Prior, MLC 1892 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
(Still life) c.1650
Alexander Coosemans’s brightly lit still life appears like a revelation in the midst of a dark landscape — a glowing celebration of God’s bounty. The grapes occupy a prominent position in the composition as they have great significance in Christian symbolism. The pumpkin, with its many seeds and rapid rate of growth, was often interpreted as a symbol for the spread of the Christian faith. The pomegranate was also laden with symbolism of regeneration, fertility and abundance. Peaches were regarded as a subspecies of apples in the seventeenth century, and were associated with the symbolism of temptation and victory over sin.
The European trade in exotic fruit and vegetables was centred in Flanders in the seventeenth century, and paintings of fruit were extremely popular among the Flemish merchant classes who wanted to express their prosperity. For this reason, still-life artists endeavoured to paint with great descriptive accuracy, carefully rendering the surface textures, the colours and the fall of light on each object so that it looked perfect and expensive. Still-life painting reflected success, affluence and plenty, with many hundreds of paintings produced to meet a market demand for the display of wealth through images. Coosemans also reminds us of the natural world’s cycle of life and death by including some lemon seeds and a shrivelled grape in the foreground.
The painting was made in Antwerp around 1650, possibly after the artist had visited Rome. Coosemans was apprenticed to Jan Davidzs De Heem in 1641–42 and was acknowledged by the Guild of St Luke as a Master painter in 1645–46 at eighteen years of age. The Guild of St Luke was a guild of painters and artisans based in Antwerp. In the Netherlands, painters and craftsmen were considered artisans, and the guilds were established to represent and protect their collective interests. A master-and-apprentice system encouraged the training of artisans by example and practice. Art production was a part of everyday commerce and trade in the prosperous nation.