Thursday, September 12, 2013

Still Life (pt. 4)

Early on, during the Baroque period which we are looking at now, objects presented in a still life carried the distinct connotation of being the personal property of the artist.  Whatever you saw in a painting he owned, and that turned into a kind of status symbol.  No other genre of painting so conveniently provided a way to show off all of your stuff to the wealthy patrons purchasing works of art at this time.  It may even bring you more customers if you are suddenly thought to be both talented and wealthy.
Dutch still life paintings did this; they celebrated the abundance of wealth that trade brought to Flanders and the Netherlands.  This is why many of the objects you see in these Dutch paintings (some of them aren't) are exotic, imported goods from other countries.  The market was flourishing during this time.
It was also the golden age of horticulture.  Tulips especially priced high on the market as exotic finery more desired at that time than jewelry.  They were first introduced to the Dutch from Constantinople.  The word "tulip" is itself a Turkish word, indicating a turban.  Holland society quickly developed a demand that soon grew broader than the supply, leading to a historic display of exaggerated economic inflation.  The Dutch people's obsession with tulips literally became known as "tulipmania."
Here is a source that can better explain it than I can.  This short article on tulipmania was taken from the 2012-2013 exhibition called "Significant Objects," from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California:
In a century characterized by inflation, the prices fetched by the tulips through sales and trade were constantly on the rise.  People eager to turn a profit flocked to the market to trade tulip bulbs.  Many gambled their homes, farm animals or other goods in anticipation of fortune to be made on tulip sales.  The intensity of this speculation appeared to operate outside the laws of common sense.  The phenomenon has been aptly named "tulipmania."
Particular tulips brought extraordinary sums.  The Semper Augustus, for example, was a rare tulip, characterized by blood-red flames and streaks on its white petals.  It sold for 1,000 guilders in 1623.  By 1637, just before the crash of the market, its price reached 10,000 guilders.  (To compare, the annual wage of a skilled laborer in Holland around this time was 200 to 400 guilders; a large house alongside a canal cost around 6,000 guilders).
In 1637, the combination of rumors about a failing market, and the fact that buyers and sellers could no longer transact business at such inflated prices, set off a selling spree.  Within months, the market for tulips collapsed.  Investors suffered heavy losses, and many went bankrupt.  Today, historians view this widespread market crash as "the first great speculation crisis of modern capitalism.
So.  A personal practicing exercise for artists, a display of wealth to viewers, an indiscriminate way to employ new artistic techniques collectively, a celebration of the successful trading industry, a cathartic expression of your tulip fetish: these are all functions that still life paintings served in the Netherlands during the Baroque period.  But apart from these mostly material purposes, still life art served a deeper role in communicating metaphysical sub-meaning and religious truth.  There is a lot of hidden meaning in most Dutch still life paintings; and if you thought the Renaissance imagery was difficult to follow, hold onto your berets.

No comments:

Post a Comment