Painting of the Week / Thomas Abbs

Painting of the Week: 29

Painting of the Week: 28

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664), Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose, 1633, oil on canvas, 107 x 60cm, Norton Simon Museum.

Francisco de Zurbarán Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose hangs unassumingly on a back wall of one of the smaller rooms in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena. As Morten Lauridsen charmingly put it in Wall Street Journal, ‘like a large black magnet, it draws its viewers from the entry into its space and deep into its mystical world.’

Known primarily for his religious paintings of Christ, the objects in Zurbarán’s still-life act as symbolic offerings to the Virgin Mary. The rose signifies love and purity, the oranges – an Easter fruit – along with the lemons symbolise renewed life. Then of course we have the table, which if our reading is accurate, represents an altar. Set off against the dark background, Zurbarán’s offering radiates luminously and majestically.

However, it seems misjudged to suggest that our appreciation of the painting is because we see this religious offering. I mean, look at the balance! the poise! the detail! The rose may communicate love and purity, but even with just a cursory glance I don’t see how the viewer could not just simply feel it. Come on,  since when does wicker look so beautiful that it sets your tummy into a churn? It really is hard to think of another painting that stimulates our emotions, as well as our mind, quite like this. TA

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