Butcher's Stall with the Flight into Egypt by Aertsen, Pieter

Butcher's Stall with the Flight into Egypt
Aertsen, Pieter
1551;
Oil on wood panel, 123.3 x 150 cm (48.5 x 59");
University Art Collections, Uppsala University, SwedenA Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms1551; Oil on panel, 115.5 x 169.0 cm;
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USAIn the 16th and 17th centuries it was quite common for theologians to
see a slaughtered animal as symbolizing the death of a
believer. Allusions to the 'weak flesh' (cf. Matthew 16:41) may well
have been associated with Aertsen's
Butcher's Stall where - like on
his fruit and vegetable stalls - a seemingly infinite abundance of
meat has been spread out.In the foreground tables, pots, plates, a barrel, some wickerwork
chairs and baskets serve as supports and containers for huge hunks of
meat, pig's trotters, soups, chains of sausages hanging down and
freshly slaughtered poultry. In the background there is an open,
shingle-roofed studded stable with a pole from which further pieces of
meat are suspended, including a pig's head, a twisted sausage and some
lard. Through the stable we can see a garden scene. On the right, in
the middle ground, a farmer is filling a large jug, and behind him we
can see a slaughtered and gutted pig, a motif which Beuckelaer also
used as an independent motif, as did
Rembrandt
later (where the animal is a slaughtered ox).Pieter Aertsen is remembered today mainly as a pioneer of still lifes,
but he seems to have first painted such pictures as a sideline, until he
saw many of his
altarpieces
destroyed by iconoclasts.
This painting, done a few years before he moved from Antwerp to
Amsterdam, seems at first glance to be an essentially secular picture.
The tiny, distant figures are almost blotted out by the avalanche of
edibles in the foreground. We see little interest here in selection or
formal arrangement. The objects, piled in heaps or strung from poles,
are meant to overwhelm us with their sensuous reality (the panel is
nearly lifesize). Here the still life so dominates the picture that
it seems independant of the religious subject. The latter, however,
is not merely a pretext to justify the painting; it must be integral
to the meaning of the scene. In the background to the left we see the
Virgin on the Flight into Egypt dispensing charity to the faithful lined
up for church, while to the right is the prodigal son in a tavern.
The Northern Mannerists often relegated subject matter to a minor position
within their compositions.Pieter Aertsen was one of the first artists to paint "inverted still
lifes," works in which the still-life elements are placed prominently
in the foreground, while the narrative elements are relegated to the
background. The
Butcher's Stall
is Aertsen's masterpiece in this genre. A
feast for the mind as well as the eyes, this remarkably executed
painting abounds with rich symbolism. The juxtaposition of the
precisely rendered meats and other foods with the Holy Family in the
background symbolically links food for the body with the spiritual
"bread of life"- food for the soul, represented by the Christ child
and the bread, offered by Mary to the poor family. In presenting a
visual metaphor that encourages the viewer to consider his spiritual
life, this work also anticipates the symbolic religious meanings
present in seventeenth-century Dutch
vanitas
still lifes. Aertsen's
Meat Stall was clearly a famous work in its own day, judging from the
number of contemporary versions that exist.
In both style and subject
matter, the
Butcher's Stall
is the direct antecedent of the impressive
Market Scene on a Quay
by Frans Snyders.This "inverted" perspective was a favorite
device of Aertsen's younger contemporary,
Pieter Bruegel the Elder,
who treated it with mocking intent in his landscapes.
Aertsen belonged to the same ironic tradition, reaching back to the
Gothic
era, whose greatest representative was the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam.
The Butcher's Stall
may be an elaborate satire on the gluttony of peasants, a favorite
subject of Bruegel. Not until around 1600 was this

Butcher's Stall with the Flight into Egypt Aertsen, Pieter 1551; Oil on wood panel, 123.3 x 150 cm (48.5 x 59"); University Art Collections, Uppsala University, SwedenA Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms1551; Oil on panel, 115.5 x 169.0 cm; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USAIn the 16th and 17th centuries it was quite common for theologians to see a slaughtered animal as symbolizing the death of a believer. Allusions to the 'weak flesh' (cf. Matthew 16:41) may well have been associated with Aertsen's Butcher's Stall where - like on his fruit and vegetable stalls - a seemingly infinite abundance of meat has been spread out.In the foreground tables, pots, plates, a barrel, some wickerwork chairs and baskets serve as supports and containers for huge hunks of meat, pig's trotters, soups, chains of sausages hanging down and freshly slaughtered poultry. In the background there is an open, shingle-roofed studded stable with a pole from which further pieces of meat are suspended, including a pig's head, a twisted sausage and some lard. Through the stable we can see a garden scene. On the right, in the middle ground, a farmer is filling a large jug, and behind him we can see a slaughtered and gutted pig, a motif which Beuckelaer also used as an independent motif, as did Rembrandt later (where the animal is a slaughtered ox).Pieter Aertsen is remembered today mainly as a pioneer of still lifes, but he seems to have first painted such pictures as a sideline, until he saw many of his altarpieces destroyed by iconoclasts. This painting, done a few years before he moved from Antwerp to Amsterdam, seems at first glance to be an essentially secular picture. The tiny, distant figures are almost blotted out by the avalanche of edibles in the foreground. We see little interest here in selection or formal arrangement. The objects, piled in heaps or strung from poles, are meant to overwhelm us with their sensuous reality (the panel is nearly lifesize). Here the still life so dominates the picture that it seems independant of the religious subject. The latter, however, is not merely a pretext to justify the painting; it must be integral to the meaning of the scene. In the background to the left we see the Virgin on the Flight into Egypt dispensing charity to the faithful lined up for church, while to the right is the prodigal son in a tavern. The Northern Mannerists often relegated subject matter to a minor position within their compositions.Pieter Aertsen was one of the first artists to paint "inverted still lifes," works in which the still-life elements are placed prominently in the foreground, while the narrative elements are relegated to the background. The Butcher's Stall is Aertsen's masterpiece in this genre. A feast for the mind as well as the eyes, this remarkably executed painting abounds with rich symbolism. The juxtaposition of the precisely rendered meats and other foods with the Holy Family in the background symbolically links food for the body with the spiritual "bread of life"- food for the soul, represented by the Christ child and the bread, offered by Mary to the poor family. In presenting a visual metaphor that encourages the viewer to consider his spiritual life, this work also anticipates the symbolic religious meanings present in seventeenth-century Dutch vanitas still lifes. Aertsen's Meat Stall was clearly a famous work in its own day, judging from the number of contemporary versions that exist. In both style and subject matter, the Butcher's Stall is the direct antecedent of the impressive Market Scene on a Quay by Frans Snyders.This "inverted" perspective was a favorite device of Aertsen's younger contemporary, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who treated it with mocking intent in his landscapes. Aertsen belonged to the same ironic tradition, reaching back to the Gothic era, whose greatest representative was the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam. The Butcher's Stall may be an elaborate satire on the gluttony of peasants, a favorite subject of Bruegel. Not until around 1600 was this