It is well known that the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries have always been characterized by their richness in exotic designs, art, literature, science, and an intellectual and cultural movement that promoted science over superstition. It turns out that the century was not only a remark of the birth of two ideal movements, Baroque and Classicism, but was also the period of some greatest artists, from Rembrandt to Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Antoine Watteau to Sofonisba and Clara Peeters. Throughout the period, we saw some painting genres, such as portraits, and history paintings, unlike previous periods, which portrayed historical events and supported heroic and moralizing episodes from religion, mythology, and literature. But as I always mentioned about the distinct art genres and forms emerging into a century, the most typical one with symbolic content that arose during the seventeenth century was the still-life paintings. I have already covered one article configuring the greatest of the still life paintings ever, which can assure you provide enough details about it. But for now, our objective is to learn about the leading female artist who painted still life paintings and was one of the finest Flemish painters. She is none other than Clara Peeters.
Artist Abstract: Who Was Clara Peeters?
Clara Peeters was one of the originators of a type of still-life painting known as the breakfast or banquet piece. When we learn towards the origination of the banquet still life, it dates back to the artworks of Pieter Aertsen and his nephew, Joachim Beukelaer, in Amsterdam. And during the mid-sixteenth century, these artists created paintings to display lavish quantities of meats, fish and other edibles, including a small religious scene in the background. But during the course of this sixteenth century, these small scenes disappeared entirely, and the food on the table stood alone. However, only a handful of these independent breakfasts or banquets existed dating before 1608. It is the same year when Clara’s one of the earliest breakfast banquets dated. Hence, we can conclude that she was one of the originators of this kind of painting. Often including vases with flowers in her still lifes, she demonstrated the versatility of her talent through her canvases.
Discussing the Artist’s Early Life.
We know only three words about the early life of Clara, “we know nothing”. However, she was born in 1594 in Antwerp, the capital of the Netherlands, she displayed her talent in paintings at a very early age. Through scholars, we know that her father’s name was Jan Peeters, and he was enough supportive to let her flourish artistically rather than marrying at the usual age of twenty. And surprisingly, she married when she was forty-five with Hendrick Joosen. It may be also because of the reason that it was difficult to support herself financially during the period as even the most successful and talented artists sourced income from other ways. When we look back at her biography, it is strenuous to trace the information, as aside from her date of birth and marriage; we know nothing backed with a source of documentation.
Early Training and the Style Clara Possessed.
As per information about her training, we do not know how she acquired her skills, but with a thorough comparison of her artworks with a still life painter, Osias Bert, we know that her work relates to him in a combination of objects like flowers, fruits, tall decorative metal goblets and flat dishes of fruits.
However, compared to Osias, Clara’s viewpoint was from a lower space, and she employed a proper and accurate perspective to situate her objects firmly. It also made her illusion of the arrangement more enhanced.
The works of Clara Peeters majorly differ from that of her contemporaries in several ways. One such is her way of grouping the objects closer, allowing them to overlap to a certain extent. Another characteristic of her artwork is that she painted with marvellous technical control, distinguishing textures of different objects, in such a way that it conveyed a clear sense of lusciousness and solidity of her subjects. Furthermore, her gradual addition of a multiplicity of reflections in her works also made them distinct from other contemporaries. Lastly, the most crucial aspect of Peeter’s art was the use of symbolic content. Now, many flemish and Dutch baroque still lifes include objects specifically to remind the earthly existence of them, which we see in Clara Peeter’s works.
However, you must note that after 1620, Clara began to have more humble food and drink, such as bread, cheese, olives, pretzels and beer. The change of subject may be because of her appeal to modern taste.
Briefly Analyzing Clara Peeters’ Paintings.
The earliest dated paintings from Clara belonged to the years 1607-08 and were typically small and intimate still lifes. The motifs she technically represented in her earlier work were glasses of wine, biscuits and sweets, oysters and shrimp, and bread and fruit. The earlier affinities of subjects and techniques included that the artist studied under Beert, although surviving records do not list her as his pupil. Four larger and more elaborate paintings which masterfully summarise the themes of Peeters works were Game Piece with Poultry, Dainties, Fish and Pie. All of them were signed and belonged to nearly identical dimensions, all dated 1611. The Game Piece with Poultry featured dead birds, whereas another Dutch painter during this time focussed on freshly caught fish, shrimp, crabs, and a strainer of artichokes presages numerous fish studies. Among Peeters’ distinctive characteristics were linear articulation and hair-breadth brushwork detail on fish-scales, and birds’ feathers; in both pictures, closely clustered objects, viewed from a low vantage point, appear to be dead, marking an innovative compositional technique.
In Still Life with Flowers, A Goblet, Dried Fruits and Pretzels, a series of four artworks focussed on a different theme, Clara Peeters showed her technical innovation. The illustration includes objects like a fish piece, a game piece, a dinner arrangement, and a work illustration. One surprisingly absorbing fact about the work is albeit, although these were among the lists of masterpieces of the early seventeenth century, Clara painted them when she was just seventeen. It shows a simple usage of a stone ledge against a dark background. The centre of the composition is the goblet, and the centre focus remains underscored by the low dish filled with dried nuts and fruits. The placement of The vase of flowers is on the left with a counterbalance of a plate of pretzels, a pewter pitcher and a glass. If you look closely, each object is rendered in a precise style, giving diverse textures.
Another composition dates back to 1612 in the same year, named Still Life with a Vase with Flowers, Goblets and Shells. Here, Clara uses similar objects but arranges them in a more restrained composition, making them look more austere. It is one of the Peeters’ masterpieces, depicting three tall objects, a goblet in the centre and a vase of flowers on the left. Anchoring the vertical forms, there is a single tulip, gold coins, a low dish and some seashells, making the painting look more natural. She has managed to establish a dynamic composition. If you look closely, the height of the flowers competes with that of the metal forms, and all the vertical objects hold a different depth, which further energises the entire composition. Technically, the artwork is brilliant and still holds a juxtaposition of luxury and nature blended through the artistic use of exotic shells with the flowers.
In the composition, Still Life with Flowers and Gilt goblets (Still Life with Flowers and Gold Cups of Honour), a masterpiece inscribing CLARA P. ANNO 1612, there is a reflection in a testimony of the impressible painting skills and creativity. All you see on the canvas is an array of valuable things including gold coins and a golden chain, two extraordinarily covered gilt goblets, a Chinese celadon bowl, exotic shells and a vase of rare flowers. This scene, which includes such artefacts, is associated with the Wunderkammer collection of rare and precious objects. Some critics have interpreted the canvas showing a fragile bloom and expensive, as a vanitas which admonishes the ephemerality of worldly riches. However, one of the most noteworthy points is that Clara used her self-portraits in the reflection of the gilt goblet to give a completely unique twist to the image. And it is her handling of paintings with such fragility, using flowers, earthly wealth and even a youthful visage that makes it stand apart.
From her paintings, we know that Peeters oeuvre is to observe the careful arrangements of certain favourable subjects and masterfully render them in her composition. Majorly she used a stack of cheeses, butter pats, artichokes or fruits halved showing their delicate pattern of centre and leaves, shrimp with their hair-like antennae, red cherries, pretzels and plates of dried fruits or olives and other specimens. The tableware even does look familiar with the lavishing goblets, silverware and pitchers, with slight variations.
Some other exemplary Clara Peeters paintings include- Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries; and Still Life with Crab, Shrimps and Lobster.
With a subtle choice of objects like candles, dishes, fruits, meats, wine and even skulls, Clara has painted masterpieces which no one drew in history. Her technical skills blended with the symbolism is something, we can’t see in the canvas other than hers. Truly, more than an inspiration, Clara Peeters is one of the finest still-life painters to come across.
1. Dictionary of Women Artists, 1997.
2. Clara Peeters: 1594-ca. 1640 : and the development of still-life painting in northern Europe (Flemish painters in the circle of the great masters) by Hibbs Pamela Decoteau.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Clara Peeters was one of the Pioneer of Still life paintings that retained perspective and were closest to reality. She was also the first artist to introduce the breakfast or banquet piece type of still life art.
Clara Peeters was born in 1594 in Antwerp, Netherlands.
Clara Peeter married Hendrick Joosen at the age of 45.