The Magic of Things – Still-Life Painting 1500-1800

The fascination of still lifes lies in their close-up view of a few, often unchanging objects rendered with extreme painterly sophistication. The still life, once on the lower rungs of the artistic ladder, was often used to demonstrate an artist’s skills, the appeal and value of a work being based on the quality of the composition, the meaningful combination of objects and the refinement of the brushstroke. In early modern times, however, the still life became much more than a mere exercise in style. It often served to make a moral statement and to encourage reflection. The Vanitas in particular was meant to remind us of the fleeting nature of life, a universal thought individually rendered by the objects chosen to symbolize it. In European art, the still life looks back on an extraordinarily rich and enduring history of some five centuries. First attempts in the late middle ages led to the genre’s golden age in the 17th century, when it achieved astonishing quantitative and qualitative heights especially in the Netherlands. It has since enjoyed a commanding renaissance in the art of the 20th century. The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum traces the developments of the still life and its variations in the Northern and Southern Netherlands as well as in Germany from its birth in the late 15th century until approximately 1760. (Kunstmuseums Basel, until Janury 18, 2009)

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