Pieter Aertsen, A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms, 1551
Oil on panel, 115.5 x 169.0 cm
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC. 

In the 16th and 17th centuries it was quite common for theologians to see a slaughtered animal as symbolizing the death of a believer. Allusions to the ‘weak flesh’ (cf. Matthew 16:41) may well have been associated with Aertsen’s Butcher’s Stall where – like on his fruit and vegetable stalls – a seemingly infinite abundance of meat has been spread out.

Pieter Aertsen was one of the first artists to paint “inverted still lifes,” works in which the still-life elements are placed prominently in the foreground, while the narrative elements are relegated to the background. The Butcher’s Stall is Aertsen’s masterpiece in this genre. A feast for the mind as well as the eyes, this remarkably executed painting abounds with rich symbolism. The juxtaposition of the precisely rendered meats and other foods with the Holy Family in the background symbolically links food for the body with the spiritual “bread of life”- food for the soul, represented by the Christ child and the bread, offered by Mary to the poor family. In presenting a visual metaphor that encourages the viewer to consider his spiritual life, this work also anticipates the symbolic religious meanings present in seventeenth-century Dutch vanitas still lifes. Aertsen’s Meat Stall was clearly a famous work in its own day, judging from the number of contemporary versions that exist. In both style and subject matter, the Butcher’s Stall is the direct antecedent of the impressive Market Scene on a Quay by Frans Snyders. 

(Submitted by joel-rosenburg)

~ by The Gallery Goddess on January 24, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: