When the Amsterdam artist Adriaen van Nieulandt (c. 1587–1658) painted the kitchen piece in 1616 that now hangs in Brunswick (Braunschweig), he must have had the ambition to surpass and renew the most spectacular examples that had been produced in this genre up to then (fig. 1). Not only is this painting extraordinary because of the enormous dimensions – it is almost two and a half meters wide – but this versatile and ambitious artist also employs an abundance of motifs, that were more than likely seen by the spectator – probably a prosperous patron and his guests – as highly amazing. Entirely new in still life painting of the Northern Netherlands is the depiction on this large scale of exclusive animal species such as the peacock, the swan, the head of a wild boar, the deer, finches, snipes, partridges and turkey. These motifs create a strong impression that this sumptuous interior is part of a palace, as do the expensive silver and gilt showpieces (including the famous chalice by the Utrecht silversmith Adam van Vianen from 1614).2 In addition, this is the earliest known Northern Netherlandish kitchen piece with a profane history in the background. The chosen theme – the history of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, which Pliny mentioned in his Naturalis Historiae – is, as far as we know, unique.3 It concerns a scene in which Cleopatra challenges the suspicious Anthony to put a poisoned cup to his lips, only to prevent him at the very last moment and force a prisoner to drink from the cup, upon which he collapsed and died on the spot. The temptingly displayed profusion of victuals in the foreground of Van Nieulandt’s painting undoubtedly refers to the voluptuousness and extravagance of Anthony and Cleopatra and illustrates the incomparable pomp and ceremony of their court.

Fig. 1 

Adriaen van Nieulandt, Kitchen piece with the history of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, canvas, 194 × 247 cm, signed and dated bottom right: Adriaen Van Nieulant Fecit In Amsterledam Anno 1616, Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum.

When Adriaen van Nieulandt completed the kitchen piece in Braunschweig in 1616 he was still under thirty years of age. However, by this time he had already built up a variegated oeuvre which brought him, as we will see, the greatest reputation imaginable among his contemporaries. In 1589, he moved with his Calvinist family from his birthplace Antwerp to Amsterdam where he was initially trained by Pieter Isaacsz., and from 1607 by Frans Badens II.4 He was primarily active as a painter of history pieces in which landscape also plays an important role. In addition, a few flower pieces, vanitas still lifes, portraits and an architectural piece are known by him.5 Until the present day the painting in Brunswick is the only known kitchen piece by Van Nieulandt. This is notable, because the scene belongs to the most ambitious compositions ever produced in this genre and the artist thus asserted his position as a celebrated painter of still life.

As I will demonstrate, Van Nieulandt’s monumental composition is also truly remarkable, because with this kitchen piece he placed himself consciously within a famous tradition of illustrious predecessors from the Northern Netherlands, and at the same time reacted to the newest developments taking place in Antwerp. His example makes it abundantly clear that the exchange and transfer of artistic knowledge between north and south must have been intensive, and that this interaction could lead to very fruitful results. Taking Van Nieulandt’s impressive composition as a point of departure, I will examine if, and if so, how other painters of kitchen pieces and related subjects concerning food in the Republic reacted to examples from the Southern Netherlands and to what extent and in which manner this cultural transfer led to innovations in the genre. Which motifs were taken from Southern artists and to which degree and manner were these incorporated into the Northern tradition? Which similarities and differences exist between the kitchen pieces in the Southern Netherlands and the Republic? To what extent are these differences explained by a different context? Finally, the data provided to us by seventeenth century auctions and inventories are analyzed, in order to explore the dynamics of the process that forms the basis of the stylistic and iconographic development of the kitchen piece (and related compositions depicting food). This also allows us to better understand through which channels the cultural interaction took place and how South-Netherlandish immigrants played a role in this.

A North Netherlandish and a South Netherlandish tradition

To begin with, Van Nieulandt shows that his invention is indebted to the kitchen pieces of earlier generations of North-Netherlandish artists, such as in particular Pieter Pietersz. (c. 1540–1603), Cornelis van Haarlem (1562–1638) and Pieter Cornelisz. van Rijck (1568-after 17 February 1635) and that he competes with these examples. The kitchen pieces by these artists had revived the tradition established by Pieter Aertsen (1508/9–1575); around the middle of the sixteenth century the latter had painted the earliest known kitchen scenes during his stay in Antwerp, before returning in the course of the 1550s to his birthplace, Amsterdam.6

When Aertsen introduced the monumental paintings in which he depicted food items and kitchen utensils, along with prominently depicted kitchen maids and boorish types, these must have made an overpowering impression on the audiences of the day. They attested to an extraordinary inventiveness, virtuosity and wit. A new art form emerged, by which the painter nevertheless had made a connection with existing traditions, such as the carnival iconography, the peasant satire in graphic work, brothel scenes, the carousing Prodigal Son and the iconography of gluttony. But it was particularly the unconventional manner of depiction that was experienced as highly surprising and witty: low subjects were presented for the first time on a monumental scale and the usual distance between the spectator and the objects and figures was abandoned.7 Aertsen already received transnational fame during his lifetime, a fact that is testified to by the honourable mention in 1567 by Ludovico Guicciardini in his Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi.8

In Antwerp Aertsen’s nephew and pupil Joachim Beuckelaer (c. 1530-c. 1574) successfully created an entirely new form of expression just after 1560, which would be instrumental in the development of the theme in the Southern Netherlands. Beuckelaer brought innovation to the genre by including in most of his paintings an even greater variety and profusion of food than Aertsen; Beuckelaer’s compositions are more balanced and his use of colour is more richly nuanced; moreover, the still lifes are more powerfully developed by blending the shades of separate still life elements more harmoniously together.

The beginning of two strongly related, but nevertheless essentially different traditions – in the North and in the South – seems to be marked by Aertsen’s move to Amsterdam and Beuckelaer’s dominant activity in Antwerp. From city descriptions of Antwerp and Amsterdam it appears that people were most certainly convinced already at the beginning of the seventeenth century of their own distinct traditions, and that this was proclaimed with pride. In Antwerpia from 1610 by Carolus Scribanius (1561–1629), it is not Aertsen but Beuckelaer who is celebrated as one of the illustrious painters that brought fame to Antwerp. In a fragment about a kitchen piece by Beuckelaer, Scribanius praises the deceptively realistic depiction of the foods painted in it and he compares his work to that of the Roman artist Possis.9 In this manner Scribanius demonstrates that Beuckelaer is part of an honourable tradition reaching back to antiquity and that Beuckelaer is in a position to compete with his renowned predecessor.

While Scribanius honours Beuckelaer in particular for his contribution to the fame of the Antwerp painters’ tradition, Aertsen is extensively praised in the seventeenth-century city descriptions of Amsterdam.10 In his description of that city of 1614, Pontanus lauds Aertsen as the founder of Amsterdam art when he cites him first in his overview of the most important artists the city had produced. In a reference to Hadrianus Junius’ Batavia from 1588, Pontanus repeats his accolade to the kitchen pieces of Aertsen and compares Aertsen with the legendary Greek painter Piraeicus.11 Also in the city descriptions of Dapper from 1663 and from Van Domselaer from 1665, Aertsen is highly praised, among other things for his skilfully painted kitchen pieces, and he is placed firmly at the beginning of a glorious Amsterdam artistic tradition.12

From around 1590 onwards, in particular painters with the highest artistic aspirations were the ones who continued the tradition of the kitchen piece in the Northern Netherlands. It concerned the most successful history painters of the time, artists who are considered part of the generation of the late Dutch mannerists, such as Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638), Cornelis van Haarlem and Pieter Cornelisz. van Rijck. For them the kitchen formed pre-eminently a theme that – due to the major diversity of materials and figures – offered the opportunity to show off their virtuosity and understanding of the depiction of surface textures. They did this by vigorously engaging in a competition with illustrious predecessors – from both the Southern and Northern Netherlands, but also with Italian painters of kitchen pieces – which contemporary connoisseurs would certainly have found entertaining. This new generation intensified and improved the illusionism and other means in order to involve the spectator in the scene.13 A powerful stimulus for these artists to compete with their predecessors was the fact that the kitchen pieces by Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer in the late sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century had become extremely costly and highly coveted collectors’ items.14

The artists of the new generation undoubtedly knew many works by Aertsen and Beuckelaer especially through the extremely wealthy collectors of their paintings (such as Sion Luz, Melchior Wyntgis and Jacob Rauwert), who belonged to a network of art lovers and who also would have formed the most important audience for these younger artists.15 Joachim Wtewael, for example, had probably studied a kitchen scene by Beuckelaer owned by one of these collectors such as the Kitchen maid with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary from 1574 (fig. 2).16 It is clear that Wtewael pointedly competes with this composition when he paints the same subject, probably around 1620–1625, and by doing so convincingly improves upon Beuckelaer’s example (fig. 3).17 This case not only shows that the model for Beuckelaer was present in the north, but also that Wtewael demonstrates his great appreciation of his predecessor and that the painter apparently assumed that his audience would recognise the model that he emulates. That a northerner so emphatically enters into a dialogue with the work of a southerner in his work is striking, but not exceptional.

Fig. 2 

Joachim Beuckelaer, Kitchen maid with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, panel, 112 × 81 cm, dated 1574, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Fig. 3 

Joachim Wtewael, Kitchen maid with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, canvas, 103.2 × 72.3 cm, signed at the bottom of the roasting spit: Jo (as monogramme) wte wael fecit., c. 1620–1625, Utrecht, Centraal Museum.

The new generation of artists came into contact with major examples from the sixteenth century via other channels as well. We know that young painters frequently had the opportunity during their training to study the kitchen pieces of their predecessors. For example, Van Mander writes that during Abraham Bloemaert’s apprenticeship the latter’s father had his son paint a copy of a kitchen piece by Aertsen as part of his training.18 Furthermore, knowledge regarding the tradition and skills in the painting of kitchen pieces was passed down from master to pupil in the workshop.19

Competing with North Netherlandish predecessors

That Van Nieulandt must have been familiar with the kitchen and market scenes by Pieter Pietersz. appears to be the case from a comparison with his Market scene with the Journey to Emmaus and a self-portait as a cook from 1571 (fig. 4).20 As the eldest son of Pieter Aertsen, paintings with market and kitchen scenes had a very personal meaning for Pieter Pietersz. Pieter received his training in the studio of his father, first in Antwerp, and probably shortly after 1555 in Amsterdam.21 It is noteworthy that the motif of the kitchen maid plucking a bird in the left foreground of Van Nieulandt’s kitchen piece strongly resembles the woman that Pieter Pietersz. depicted on the left and in a similar kneeling position, bending forward. Like Pieter Pietersz, Van Nieulandt shows the woman in a more or less ‘antique’ style of clothing, one that differs from the costumes worn by kitchen maids when they are depicted in a more contemporary setting. Furthermore, the facial type of the girl seems to resemble examples from Pieter Pietersz, who would paint kitchen maids in a similar manner with thin eyebrows, a long, narrow nose and a high forehead that ends in a narrow chin, such as in the Kitchen maid with the Supper at Emmaus in Stockholm.22

Fig. 4 

Pieter Pietersz., Market scene with the Journey to Emmaus and a self-portrait as a cook, panel, 118 × 155 cm, monogrammed and dated 1571, present location unknown (German art dealer, Diemen, 1929).

We encounter this type also in Cornelis van Haarlem’s Kitchen scene with a merry company from 1596 which equally shows a bird-plucking kitchen maid and in which we also see for the first time a similar large number of valuable metal objects, akin to depictions by Van Nieulandt, including a silver or gilded tazza (fig. 5).23 Cornelis van Haarlem had in turn, between 1572 and 1573, been a pupil of Pieter Pietersz., during the latter’s stay in Haarlem.24 It is very likely that already at that time Cornelis acquired experience in painting figures in combination with food. Cornelis’s painting shows an even more subtle depiction of gradations in light and dark than the kitchen pieces of his master. The still life and the figures are blended together harmoniously in a more natural way, and there is a more convincing suggestion of space: the illusionism through which the spectator becomes involved with the scene depicted, is both intensified and improved. Therefore, Van Mander’s claim that Cornelis ‘soon surpassed his master masterfully; and, as if the Fates wished it so, he received, while still young, the name Cornelis Schilder [Painter]’, is entirely applicable.25

Fig. 5 

Cornelis van Haarlem, Kitchen scene with a merry company, canvas, 137 × 198 cm, monogrammed and dated 1596, auction Vienna, Dorotheum (2002).

The ambitious construction of Van Nieulandt’s painting is also particularly close to Pieter Cornelisz. van Rijck’s magnificent Kitchen piece with the parable of the Great Supper in Brunswick from 1604 (fig. 6). That kitchen piece must, both because of the extraordinary scale as well as the overwhelming richness of motifs it contains, be viewed as the most spectacular composition that up to that time had been produced in that genre. The kitchen piece executed on canvas measures 189 by 288 cm and is therefore, as far as is known, larger and more ambitious in composition than any other earlier still life. In the year that the scene was painted – 1604 – the thirty-six year old Van Rijck, who lived in Haarlem at that time, could look back on a rich experience that he had gained during a long term stay in Italy. Van Rijck emphatically showed off his familiarity with kitchen pieces by Italian painters such as Jacopo Bassano and Vincenzo Campi, while at the same time demonstrating his affinity with the Aertsen tradition.26

Fig. 6 

Pieter Cornelisz. van Rijck, Kitchen piece with the parable of the Great Supper, canvas, 189 × 288 cm, signed and dated bottom right: Petrus van Rijck/In. [venit] et fecit 1604, Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum.

Apart from the fact that Van Nieulandt displays a similar richness of motifs, he built up his composition like Van Rijck along a powerful diagonal (in Van Rijck this concerns two diagonals). It is formed by the table placed in an oblique angle with the picture plane, and leads the eye from the right foreground to the scene in the left background; thus, a powerful depth is achieved. While Van Nieulandt depicts food items in a totally different way than Van Rijck – among other things because he uses a brighter palette and stronger light-dark contrasts – there are recognizable similarities in the manner in which some details are painted, such as the crabs and lobsters on the ground (shown lying on their backs), or the dead songbirds that hang limply over the edge of the table.

Van Nieulandt signs his name and the date elaborately and decoratively on the right, under the dead peacock: Adriaen Van Nieulant Fecit In Amsterledam Anno 1616. Van Nieulandt announced with pride that he is the creator of the composition. By adding the unusual information that the kitchen piece was created in Amsterdam he seemed to consciously emphasise that his work belonged to the illustrious Amsterdam painters’ tradition of Pieter Aertsen and Pieter Pietersz. In 1618, only two years after Van Nieulandt painted the kitchen scene, he was immortalised in Theodoor Rodenburgs honorary poem to Amsterdam, ‘De Paragonne van de wereldt’, as one of the most important painters produced by the city – together with among others Pieter Aertsen and his master Frans Badens II, who also must have painted kitchens.27 In 1620, Van Nieulandt was again mentioned in an enumeration of famous artists in Balthasar Gerbiers ‘Eer ende claght-dicht ter eeren van Henricus Goltius’.28 This time he received a place of honour in the company of, among others, Abraham Bloemaert, Cornelis van Haarlem, Jan Pynas, Frans Badens II, Pieter Lastman, David Vinckboons and Cornelis van der Voort.

Competition with Frans Snyders

At the same time Van Nieulandt, with his exuberant, apparently nonchalant composition, demonstrates that he is well aware of the most recent developments in Antwerp since he refers emphatically to the highly innovative paintings of still lifes and pantries Frans Snyders had introduced there shortly after his return from Italy around 1609. Snyders’ dynamic still lifes pointedly depict the spoils of the hunt, such as roe deer, wild boar, swans and pheasants, bitterns, herons, hares and all kinds of small game, while hunting dogs often appear in the foreground.

Generally speaking, Snyders’ pantries entered into competition with the kitchen interiors of Beuckelaer in particular, who typified these already as temporary storage rooms such as the Kitchen piece with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary from 1566 in the Rijksmuseum (fig. 7). But Snyders enriched his compositions with motifs which he borrowed from print series of the elements, the senses, the seasons and the months.29 The close relationship with the iconography of the seasons appears among other things from the presence of monkeys and squirrels that steal some of the food and the depiction of game in his paintings. Furthermore, Snyders seems to have borrowed the new motif of the page which occupies such a prominent place in his compositions, from idealized mealtime scenes, such as the open air scenes of the Mechelen painter Lodewijck Toeput.30 From Snyders Van Nieulandt not only borrowed the entirely new repertoire of motifs, whereby in particular the spoils of the hunt are shown, but also the dynamic manner of presentation, that gave the composition an unprecedented grandeur and drama. Adriaen van Nieulandt maintained good contacts with his birthplace, where his brother, the painter and dramatist Guilliam II van Nieulandt, lived and worked since 1606 (see the article in this volume by Eric Jan Sluijter).

Fig. 7 

Joachim Beuckelaer, Kitchen piece with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, panel, 171 × 250 cm, monogrammed and dated 1566, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

Apart from the dynamic manner of presentation we find various motifs that were depicted by Van Nieulandt, such as the head of a wild boar, the swan, the peacock, the turkey and the deer, earlier in Snyder’s painting showing The recognition of Philopoemen, that the latter produced in partnership with Rubens around 1609–1610 (fig. 8). That Rubens was the inventor of both the subject and the composition appears from the rough oil sketch from his hand which is preserved at the Louvre.31 The scene by Snyders and Rubens marks a new departure in the history of the still life: the composition is among other things exceptional because of the enormous size of the painting (with its 201 by 311 cm it even surpasses the dimensions of Van Rijck’s kitchen piece from 1604), and because of the subject, borrowed from Plutarch (c. 46–120 A.D.), which was never previously depicted. As far as is known, it concerns the earliest example in which a kitchen-like still life is combined with a profane history.32 This might have given Van Nieulandt, or possibly his client, the idea to also depict an unusual subject from classical history in a kitchen scene instead of a biblical scene.

Fig. 8 

Frans Snyders and Rubens, The recognition of Philopoemen, canvas, 201 × 311 cm, c. 1609–1610, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

Van Nieulandt must have studied other innovative compositions by Snyders as well. Elements in Van Nieulandts painting, such as the pheasant, the asparagus, artichokes, grapes and the bowl of strawberries also appear among other things in a Pantry by Snyders from around 1610–1620, now in Rotterdam, and in the piece in London, in which yet again a deer, a peacock and a head of a wild boar are depicted (fig. 9).33 Despite strong similarities in the motif repertoire and the dramatic, artificial manner of presentation Van Nieulandt’s composition has an entirely individual character. He applied an essentially different compositional scheme from Snyders, who organised his still life mostly parallel to the picture plane and within this suggested a stronger diagonal movement by connecting the forms to each other. By contrast, Van Nieulandts composition is built along powerful lines of perspective, providing greater depth, while the still life is distributed over different planes.

Fig. 9 

Frans Snyders, Pantry, canvas, 125.7 × 198.1 cm, c. 1612, London, Wallace collection.

In short, the Northern and Southern Netherlandish traditions in this work by Van Nieulandt form a refined amalgam by which a surprisingly innovative scene has come into being. As we will see below, in that sense it is not an exception. On the basis of three other cases, it can be demonstrated how painters of kitchen pieces in the Republic adapted and made use of Southern Netherlandish examples, and to which important innovations this has led.

The reaction from the specialist Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff: a varied offering

A reaction to the impressive example from Van Nieulandt came from the Delft artist Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff (1571–1643). In contrast to the versatile Haarlem and Utrecht late mannerists, Delff developed very early on into a true specialist of kitchen pieces. This pupil of Cornelis van Haarlem turned out monumental compositions around 1600 that originated in competition with his master (fig. 10).34 That Delff also reacted to works by Joachim Beuckelaer, and that he himself apparently had the chance to observe these examples well, can be deduced from the presence of the dead turkey, on the extreme left in the painting. It concerns a motif that Beuckelaer depicted in an innovative way shortly after 1560 in his kitchen pieces, in which he presents the bird on one side of the composition so that the motif functions as repoussoir. Delff painted this in a very similar manner (seen from almost the same angle and in comparable shadow) to the turkey in, for example, Beuckelaer’s Kitchen still life with Christ at Emmaus in the Mauritshuis.35

Fig. 10 

Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff, Kitchen piece, canvas, 131.8 × 219.1 cm, signed lower left of centre: C.J Delff Fc, auction Amsterdam, Sotheby’s (2006).

However, around 1615–1620, Delff successfully introduced a whole new type of image: kitchen still lifes without figures. This type includes the monumental large format painting Kitchen still life with a swan and a turkey (fig. 11).36 By depicting a huge dead swan and a turkey this scene strongly evokes an image of fabulous luxury. This combination of motifs was probably borrowed from Van Nieulandt’s kitchen piece from 1616. That Delff must have studied Van Nieulandt’s kitchen piece closely, appears even more clearly from another still life by his hand in which a dead swan constitutes the central theme: Delff shows this swan in a similar pose as Van Nieulandt and the bird appears here also in combination with a comparable precious metal wine cooler (fig. 12).37 From the presence of motifs such as the basket of grapes (seen in the left foreground), and the large copper basin, it can be assumed that Delff also employed elements from the work of Snyders. Shortly before these were painted by Snyders in a similar manner, as in the Still life with game, vegetables and fruit from 1612, his earliest known dated autonomous still life (fig. 13).38 Nevertheless, there are in the execution of this type of image considerable differences between Delff and Snyders: while the latter displays a larger selection of game, Delff particularly concentrates on kitchen paraphernalia and also paints fish, raw (offal) meat and sausages; Delff’s colour palette is also much more restrained. These monumental scenes were undoubtedly destined for a very wealthy and affluent audience, but Delff also painted types of images that were probably put on the market at a lower price.39

Fig. 11 

Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff, Kitchen still life with a swan and a turkey, panel, 123.5 × 189.5 cm, monogrammed: CJD [joined] Delff, private collection Munich.

Fig. 12 

Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff, Kitchen still life with a swan, panel, 103.5 × 138.5 cm, lower left monogrammed, auction London, Phillips (1989).

Fig. 13 

Frans Snyders, Still life with game, vegetables and fruit, panel, 95.5 × 125.6 cm, signed and dated: F. Snyders 16[1]2, New York, Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc.

Delff’s Kitchen still life in Strasbourg from about 1615–1620 probably belongs to the last category; it is one of his earliest known representations in this genre without figures (fig. 14).40 Delff had developed this type directly from his Kitchen scene with a boozer, which also dates from about 1615–1620: in that piece we already encounter elements like the copper and bronze or tin kettles and bowls, the artichokes and the practically similarly displayed quinces and fish (a pike and bass).41 Instead of the goose and the rib meat, a couple of fat ducks, finches and grapes are shown. All this Delff places against a uniformly-dark background which shows a faint glimmer on the right side of an invisible light source located outside the image. In the dimly lit kitchen everything is made ready to prepare a meal. More explicitly than before, the artist implies the presence of the viewer by displaying on the foreground a glass of frothy beer, a bite-sized herring, cut into wedges with onions, and a plate of butter lumps: it is as if the viewer has just eaten the butter and took a bite of the herring. Furthermore, the still life is shown in close-up and the vanishing point is much lower compared to the large-scale compositions which Delff painted around 1600, constituting a stronger suggestion of closeness. At the same time Delff manages to involve the viewer more intensively in the scene by focusing on the still life, also presenting a more convincing coherence of the different motifs.

Fig. 14 

Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff, Kitchen still life, panel, 79 × 127 cm, signed above right: C. Delff, Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts.

The evolution of this type of kitchen still life reveals itself gradually and seems at first sight rather the result of a logical, inner development, than of external factors. However, the transition to this type of kitchen still life without figures cannot be considered independently from developments in the Southern Netherlands, where a similar transformation took place shortly before. An incentive for Delff might have been the – as far as we know – earliest dated compositions of this type from 1611 by Clara Peeters, who is supposedly from Antwerp. One of her still lifes of that same year features a range of freshwater fish, including carp, pike and roach, but also cooked sea crabs and shrimp (fig. 15). Peeters painted another still life in the same year in which – just as Delff some years later – she depicts dead finches, a mallard drake and other wildfowl.42 In a similar manner to Delff, Peeters paints fresh, mostly raw food in close-up, which in her case is arranged side by side on a table placed parallel to the bottom edge of the picture and also presents them against a dark, uniform background.

Fig. 15 

Clara Peeters, Still life with fish and crabs, panel, 50 × 71.6 cm, signed and dated 1611, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

These images give the impression that most of the raw products have just been obtained and are ready to be cooked. While the fish still life by Peeters only shows a copper colander with a slotted spoon, Delff more emphatically refers to the cooking process by displaying all the pots, pans and other kitchen utensils. In a similar way to Peeters, Delff executed the kitchen still life in Strasbourg in a limited colour range of reds, browns, greens and ochre, in which he achieved in a most refined manner a balanced harmony in colour and tone. How Delff became acquainted with Peeters’s compositions we do not know, but it is certain that in 1613 a still life by Peeters from 1608 was mentioned in an anonymous inventory in Amsterdam.43

Snyders, on the other hand, produced kitchen still lifes without figures probably earlier, such as the one with game, meat, poultry and a lobster and the painting with fish, an otter, a lobster and vegetables (fig. 16).44 Like Delff and Peeters, Snyders also shows these items in close-up and brings them together into a more compact whole. In these compositions from about 1610, Snyders shows a number of very similar motifs in his kitchen piece in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, which dates from approximately the same year.45 However, that particular piece was fashioned by Snyders after a Northern Netherlandish example: the highly influential print with a kitchen piece probably of 1603 by the Haarlemmer Matham Jacob (1571–1631).46

Fig. 16 

Frans Snyders, Still life with fish, an otter, a lobster and vegetables, panel, 97 × 126 cm, Delft, Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof (loan from Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed).

At the same time an important motivation for Delff to develop this new type of painting was no doubt that such works could be produced much faster and cheaper than his large-scale compositions, which allowed him to meet the increased demand for this kind of painting, and to better serve a wider audience. As mentioned above, Delff varies the production of images with a more modest design, which nevertheless suggests a lavishly stocked kitchen, to monumental pictures displaying luxury and opulence. This variety of kitchen still lifes in his oeuvre is probably to some extent a reflection of the differentiated audience for whom he worked. Apparently, the more luxurious types of images Delff introduced were successful and clearly there was a demand for this type of paintings, as can be concluded from the fact that other Northern Netherlandish artists elaborated on his examples. In fact, Delff provoked competition with his kitchen still lifes from painters such as Dirck van Cats, Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp, Dirck Govertsz. and Harmen Steenwijck. By the late 1620s, new types mainly evolved from the autonomous kitchen still life, such as the hunting and fish still lifes.47

The development of laid tables by Floris van Dijck and Nicolaes Gillis

Time and again, painters of food seek new resources to surprise the public with ever more convincing and seductive illusions. The Haarlem born Floris Claesz. van Dijck (1574 or 1575–1651) and the Antwerp-born Nicolaes Gillis around 1610, elicited a radical innovation by introducing laid tables without figures (fig. 17).48 Compositionally and regarding the content their paintings primarily connect with a type that was probably painted in collaboration by both Lucas van Valckenborch and Georg Flegel at the end of the 80s or 90s of the sixteenth century in Frankfurt (fig. 18).49 These scenes glorify the gathering of a grand, patrician company at a meal with precious tableware and luxurious treats. It is very likely that the Festive banquet with music represents a wedding banquet.50 The composition of the victuals on the table reveals striking similarities with the laid tables of Gillis and Van Dijck: we notice the same combination of cheeses, butter, rolls, fruit, candy, wine and extremely costly tazza and decorative goblets. The laid tables of Gillis and Van Dijck must therefore also have been painted with the intention of evoking images of a festive event like a wedding banquet.

Fig. 17 

Floris Claesz. van Dijck, Laid table, panel, 73.7 × 113 cm, monogrammed and dated upper right: FVD fecit/A° 1610, Paris, Galerie de Jonckheere (shown at TEFAF, Maastricht, 2005).

Fig. 18 

Lucas van Valckenborch and Georg Flegel, Festive banquet with music, panel, 120 × 190 cm, c. 1590, private collection, Austria.

An essential difference regarding the Valckenborch-Flegel compositions is of course that Van Dijck and Gillis created autonomous still lifes without figures. Gillis and Van Dijck must have been aware that they reduced the distance from the viewer to the meal, and that the illusionistic effect is increased when the figures are completely eliminated from the painting: thus it is possible to display the objects and food in close-up and in a more life-like manner, giving the viewer a more active role by creating a strong suggestion that the painted meal is prepared for him.

An important step in this direction had already been made around 1590–1600 by an unknown artist, probably a South Netherlandish painter, which marks a transition from the Valckenborch-Flegel compositions to the still lifes of Gillis and Van Dijck (fig. 19).51 Just as with Gillis and Van Dijck there are no figures depicted in the foreground; only in the right background a girl is busy with the preparation of a main course. All food, except for the parsnip and the waffle, recurs in the same combination in the work of Gillis and Van Dijck.

Fig. 19 

South Netherlandish artist, Laid table with kitchen scene, panel, 81.6 × 136.7 cm, c. 1590–1600, auction Christie’s, Paris (2013).

It is noteworthy that Joachim von Sandrart stated that Flegel’s still lifes were highly desired by art connoisseurs, and especially by Netherlandish residents in Frankfurt; for that reason he could not possibly meet the high demand, despite his fast working method.52 The type of image developed in Frankfurt must have been introduced to the Northern Netherlands by the international (trading) network of southern Netherlandish immigrants who had settled in the larger cities such as Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden. The presence of this new buying public and the fact that among them many artists had a Southern Netherlandish origin, must have been a driving force in the development of new types of images.53

Not only was the custom in the Southern Netherlands to surround oneself with paintings of different price categories, including kitchen pieces and other representations of food imitated by the indigenous population of the Northern Netherlands, and did the demand for this kind of painting among a wide audience increase significantly; it also must have generated the need for paintings of a higher quality, which were technically more skilful, more life-like and more interesting and attractive in terms of their inventiveness.54 Shortly after Van Dijck and Gillis had introduced the still life genre of laid tables in Haarlem, their innovations incited competition among a large number of painters, including Floris van Schooten, Roelof Koets, Pieter Claesz. and Willem Claesz. Heda.55

The development of the Peasant Kitchen Piece

Southern Netherlandish examples also played a seminal role in the development of the peasant kitchen piece, a new type of image that enjoyed immense popularity in the thirties and forties of the seventeenth century. In Rotterdam a lot of these paintings were produced by specialists such as Hendrick Martensz. Sorgh and Pieter de Bloot (fig. 20).56

Fig. 20 

Pieter de Bloot, Peasant kitchen, panel, 60 × 82 cm, signed and dated lower right: P. de Bloot/1640, auction Charpentier, Paris (1949).

The viewer can enjoy the sight of peasants abandoning themselves to drinking and debauchery in their environment, often a barn. Typical of many of these paintings, apart from their small size, is the fact that they usually show a divide in the picture plane, which is split between a genre scene and a prominent still life. In Dordrecht, Jan Olis developed his own variation on the theme, which he produced since the forties of the seventeenth century (fig. 21).57 Often, an immense amount of food is piled up in the foreground, of which a luxurious meal can be prepared, and is intended explicitly for the viewer. Another feature of these paintings is that they are often executed in a very limited colour range of greys, browns and greens. Therefore it was probably possible to produce them at a low price. The origin of this type of image is to be found in Antwerp. Certainly as early as 1565, Maarten van Cleve developed there, in competition with Aertsen and Beuckelaer, an innovative type of kitchen piece (fig. 22).58 It distinguished itself from previous kitchen scenes of Aertsen and Beuckelaer because it has a much smaller size and is executed with looser brushwork, allowing it to be produced faster. Moreover, the space – a large kitchen of an inn – is populated by a much larger number of people, and certainly not just peasants. Various comical motifs in the scene draw a smile from the viewer, such as the amusing bagpipe-playing peasant couple entering on the right, or the muscular and clownish cook, depicted in the midst of his victuals and forcefully sticking a bird on the spit, while looking over his shoulder at a small girl who holds the spit for him. Such a painting could have functioned as a model for the maker of a small format painting of a Peasant kitchen with the signature Savery, one of the earliest known examples of this type of image from the seventeenth century (fig. 23).59 It must have been produced just after 1600 in the Northern Netherlands by a member of the Savery family, who had emigrated to Amsterdam. Savery’s composition shows a transitional phase in the development of the sixteenth-century kitchen piece by Maerten van Cleve in the direction of the many peasant kitchen pieces of the 1630s and 1640s. Compositions such as Savery’s were probably among the many cheap kitchen pieces that appeared in large numbers certainly from 1600 onwards, via Southern Netherlandish immigrants, on the Amsterdam art market. This generated a strong demand for this type of painting among a broader public and encouraged local artists to develop types of images and production methods, by way of which they could cope with the new competition.

Fig. 21 

Jan Olis, Kitchen piece, panel, 68.5 × 81.5 cm, signed and dated: JO[joined] lis fecit 1645, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (on loan to Dordrechts Museum).

Fig. 22 

Maarten van Cleve, Kitchen piece, panel, 50 × 66 cm, signed and dated on the back of the panel: Merten van Klef 1565, Verona, Museo di Castelvecchio.

Fig. 23 

Circle of Jacob Savery I, Peasant kitchen, panel, 31.7 × 46.3 cm, signed Savery fe, after 1600, Paris, Geneva, De Jonckheere (2013).

The impact of the South Netherlandish immigrants on the North Netherlandish art market: prices, owners and production of kitchen pieces

To understand the dynamics of the process that forms the basis of the stylistic and iconographic development of the kitchen piece (and related images with food), a careful analysis of the data that seventeenth century auctions and inventories of estates provide is necessary. From my research into the financial value of kitchen pieces and their owners, carried out on the basis of inventories in a number of larger cities in the Northern Netherlands, it appears that certainly from around 1620 onwards, there was an increasingly wider public that collected images of painted food: kitchen pieces and paintings with food items were found among widely diverse professional sectors of society.60 The majority of the owners belonged to a well-to-do class of primarily merchants, and many kitchen pieces could be found in the possession of practitioners of ‘free professions’, as well as painters and art dealers, but also with simple craftsmen and shopkeepers. It is striking that precisely practitioners of professions such as inn keepers and pastry chefs had a particular preference for kitchen pieces and still lifes depicting food: we can assume professional considerations would have played a role here.

Furthermore, it has been established that the valuations of kitchen pieces could vary greatly. At the end of the sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth century, exorbitant prices have often been recorded for kitchen scenes by illustrious artists such as Aertsen and Beuckelaer. The high appreciation of kitchen pieces by Aertsen, who is first on the list of most frequently mentioned painters in Amsterdam inventories, supports the hypothesis that seventeenth century painters, encouraged by the public for whom they worked, were stimulated to compete with their sixteenth century predecessors.61

But it is equally striking that certainly from around 1600 onwards, the Amsterdam art market (and probably this also occurred in other Dutch cities) was flooded with cheap kitchen scenes by Southern Netherlandish artists, which made it possible for people to purchase such pictures in very diverse price categories. In at least 35 of the 189 auctions organized between 1600 and 1617 under the auspices of the Amsterdam orphanage chamber, documented in the Montias Database, kitchen pieces were sold, very often for prices between four and ten guilders.62 These cheap paintings were executed on panel and frequently on a small format, as appears from descriptions such as a ‘koockentgen’ or a ‘koockenbortje’. The makers were never named, but probably most of them were painted by artists from the Southern Netherlands, both by immigrants and painters active in the South. As suggested above, it is indeed possible that it concerns works such as the Peasant kitchen (fig. 23) signed by a member of the Savery family. Less time-consuming and labour intensive production methods probably made it possible to sell these at a low price, and that applies just as much to all other categories of auctioned paintings. The original owners of the auctioned kitchen pieces were probably for the most part Southern Netherlandish immigrants as well, mostly wealthy merchants and sometimes artists, originating from Antwerp, who were accustomed to surrounding themselves with paintings of various price categories.63

One of these was the Antwerp born merchant and insurer Jacques Rombouts I from whose collection three kitchen pieces were auctioned on 24 March 1609, all by anonymous makers, for very wide-ranging prices: f 18.–, f 58:5:- and f 280.–. The last sum is the highest for a painting from this rather extensive collection.64 Among the buyers at these auctions were many South Netherlandish immigrants.65 The first-mentioned kitchen piece from the Rombouts-collection was bought for example by the Antwerp born silk painter Sebald de Witte, while the two expensive pieces were bought by Hans Rombouts, also born in Antwerp and brother of Jacques Rombouts, who was also a merchant.66

Another interesting example is the Antwerp painter, merchant and art dealer Louijs de Rocourt, who had settled in Amsterdam in 1616. In his collection, of which the inventory was drawn up on 22 May 1627, we encounter no less than 25 paintings of food, including various examples by South Netherlandish artists. Apart from many fruit still lifes and laid tables (including a ‘banquet’ by Osias Beert), he also possessed seven kitchen pieces; the most remarkable being ‘a large kitchen by Breugel’ (by whom we do not know any autograph kitchen piece), a ‘large kitchen’ by the unidentified ‘Scheel Hansken naer Breugel’, another copied kitchen piece after Brueghel and two large kitchens after ‘Schele Hansken’.67 A large portion of this collection was auctioned a month later; seven kitchen pieces (the same as in the inventory?), all of them without a name attached to it, yielded between f 17:10.– and f 66.–. The highest prices, f 61.– and f 66.–, are not small, but seem nevertheless to be somewhat low for a real Brueghel.68

This new competition must have been an enormous stimulus for the local painters to adapt their production methods. Many, especially Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff, did this by specializing more intensively and providing within their specialism a more differentiated supply of both quite quick and cheaply produced pieces of a smaller format, as well as more laborious and more expensive compositions with monumental dimensions. Others, such as Abraham Bloemaert, Joachim Wtewael, Pieter Cornelisz. Van Rijck and Adriaen van Nieulandt, with their large scale and obviously expensive compositions, aimed at a very affluent and elite audience. In order to prevent the market for painted food from becoming saturated, many painters generated a new demand by surprising the audience with innovative types of images such as the kitchen still life, the laid table, the peasant kitchen piece, the hunting still life and fish still life. That many painters were particularly successful in their strategy appears from the rich variation of types of images and their diverse styles, formats, iconography and dimensions, that we encounter in inventories, often even in one home. This diversity is undoubtedly not only the result of the competition between artists, but must also have been generated by a rivalry between the owners, who enthusiastically tried to outdo each other in the richness of their painting collections. They also displayed their kitchen pieces, kitchen still lifes and other images with food to give expression to their hospitality and to show how well filled their pantries were. Significant is the way in which even the moralist Petrus Wittewrongel expressed in 1661 that flaunting splendor in the home is permitted to a certain extent:

Not only are we allowed to furnish our houses with the most necessary household items, with everything needed […] in the kitchen and in the special rooms. It is also permitted to display for the eyes our need for comfort and abundance.69


This contribution demonstrates that the artistic exchange between the traditions of the kitchen piece in the North and the South was very intensive and strongly stimulated innovation. The two closely related, yet essentially different traditions appear to have had a continuous interaction. On the basis of examples by Adriaen van Nieulandt, Joachim Wtewael, Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff, Floris van Dijck and Pieter de Bloot it has been argued that these traditions did not remain separated, but often merged. These painters reacted to examples of South Netherlandish painters by borrowing motifs or modes of picturing and appropriated these to transform and renew their own pictorial tradition. This artistic transfer from the South to the North confirms the fact that artists and their artworks were very mobile. In the case of the Amsterdammer Van Nieulandt, it is most likely that he became familiar with the new developments in his birthplace Antwerp thanks to the close family ties he maintained. Many other artists, such as Wtewael and Delff, did not need to travel far and could admire kitchen pieces by Beuckelaer and probably also still lifes by Peeters and Snyders in collections in the Northern Netherlands. Everything points to the fact that the high quality, quantity and variety of production of kitchen pieces and related images of food in the early decades of the seventeenth century in the Northern Netherlands received a powerful impetus from the stream of South Netherlandish immigrants, among whom were painters of food as well as a considerable part of a new audience; they played a decisive role after 1600 in the process of development of new types of images and were responsible for the strong increase in demand for these kinds of paintings. They were taste makers in multiple ways.