Painting of the Week / Thomas Abbs

Painting of the Week: 71

Still Life With Asparagus

Adriaen Coorte (ca. 1665 – after 1707), Still Life With Asparagus, 1697, oil on canvas, 25 x 20.5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Vegetables are deserving, occasionally, of a bit of majesty and concentration outside of the kitchen. It’s a sentiment shared by dutch painter Adriaen Coorte who in this still-life manages to imbue the humble asparagus stalk with something bordering on the profound.

At first glance it may appear Coorte’s objectives don’t move much further than wishing to create a convincingly realistic image. But when a glance becomes a curious stare, the image becomes more complicated. While the bunch of asparagus is effulgent, radiating light, full of life, it is resting askew on one solitary – dare I say lonely? – withered spear, which manages to place the entire bunch in jeopardy, teetering tantalising over the table’s edge. Relationships between the individual and the group are at play here; the ability of the seemingly insignificant to influence events, the rogue to get its own way.

Perhaps it can also be suggested that the somewhat contrived angle of the asparagus is a nod to its aphrodisiacal quality (or maybe not). Either way, Coorte painted seven more variations of this scene in his short life (here’s one from 1703), all of which remain perennially glorious. TA

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