Clara Peeters, Still Life with Flowers and Goblets, 1612, 59,5 x 49 cm, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe.
The background of Still Life with Flowers and Goblets, painted in 1612 by the Flemish artist Clara Peeters is comprised of an uninflected hue of dark brown. As a result, the luminosity that Peeters has imbued her still life arrangement with is heightened even further, allowing the viewer to become almost lost within the filigree-like detail of the two goblets and the highly considered treatment of the coins and the chain that nonchalantly spills out of the Chinese bowl.
Beyond its technical virtuosity and its self-evident display of conspicuous consumption, Still Life with Flowers and Goblets is both a Vanitas painting and with respect to the bowl, suggestive of the opening up of trade routes between Europe and Asia. Painted when the artist was only eighteen years old, perhaps the most notable aspect of the painting is the series of convex reflections of the artist contained within the vessel’s bosses. It is in this respect that whilst, as the title suggests this painting is a still life, it could equally be characterised as a self-portrait.
Either way, the painting deftly orchestrates different registers of visibility. However, the visibility that is at work within this painting and more specifically the visibility accorded the artist is twice removed. Hence rather than being a representation of Clara Peeters, (or, in this particular case, seven representations), the painting represents what are themselves representations. In one sense the attenuated visibility of Peeters is more broadly telling of the extent at which women artists were accorded a visibility within the social and artistic strictures of seventeenth century Europe. Moreover, Still Life with Flowers and Goblets is not only a demonstration of technical prowess, if not magisterial skill, but, as others have duly noted, uses the conventions of what was considered to be at the time the most lowly of genres as the means wherein the visibility of the artist could be negotiated and, in this particular instance, covertly reinscribed. CS
Craig Staff is an artist and currently Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Northampton. His new book, After Modernist Painting, is a timely critical re-evaluation of the contested medium of painting over the last 50 years – despite being declared dead since the 1960s, it refuses to die.