Quiet Life

A social media post by another artist this week prompted me to ponder the origin of the term still life.

The Met defines a still life as a glorification of everyday life—of “the home and personal possessions, commerce, trade, and learning.”

The still life emerged as a genre in the Netherlands four hundred years ago.

Its precedents (including paintings like Petrus Christus‘ 1449 Goldsmith in His Shop) were religious in nature; but Dutch painters decidedly abandoned religious motifs for secular ones.

They painted instead pictures of “conspicuous” luxuries: hams, lobsters, oysters, pâtés, porcelains, rummers,  silverware, and floral bouquets.

Celebrations of the hunt board became all the rage among wealthy collectors.

Call it a “eureka moment,” but I realized this week why after four centuries the still life still holds our attention.

The name says it all.

Still life is derived from the Dutch word stilleven, (stille + ven).

Ven means life. Stille means quiet.

In an uncivil, frenzied, superhigh-decibel world, we long for a quiet life.

In small doses, anyway.

Above: Pen Approaching Lemon. Oil on fiberboard. 10 x 8 inches.