It had been a long time since I prepared a tutorial; well, still life took my time, let’s say.
It took my time because I wasn’t really into this topic, to be honest. But I have made one sketch with grapes and candles, and during the researching process(I made myself study it actually) and discovered many interesting things from its history. And now I feel glad I didn’t skip the still-life study.
Still-life painting is the type where a natural and/or man-made subject is painted, mostly for a religious content or allegorical symbolism. That subject might be flowers, shells, dead animals(naturals); book, candle, clock, coins(man-made) etc.
That type achieved it’s the greatest importance in the Golden Age of Netherlandish art(16-17th century), says Wikipedia. And also this is quite interesting that there are still-life paintings in Egyptian tombs where those paintings were believed the painted subjects become real for the deceased in the afterlife.
Starting from the Roman times is the tradition of the use of the skull in paintings as a symbol of mortality and earthly remains, often with the accompanying phrase ‘Omnia mors aequat‘ (Death makes us equal). This type is called Vanitas.
With the explosion of interest in the natural world and the creation of botanical encyclopedias of the New World(early 16th century) and Asia; scientific illustrations were made by the painters. In this time of period shells, insects, exotic fruits and flowers began to be collected and traded; such as tulips which were imported to Europe. I watched a movie about it some time ago, called Tulip Fever, about a painter and tulip trading at the time in Amsterdam.
Dutch artists identified and separately developed kitchen and market paintings(nowadays, I enjoy contemporary kitchen paintings of some present painters), breakfast and food table still-life, vanitas paintings and allegorical collection paintings.
Especially popular in this period were vanitas paintings; books, statuettes, coins, jewellery, musical instruments, skull, hourglass or pocket watch, candle burning down or a book with pages turning, some fruits and flowers starting to spoil or fade to emphasize the same point.
And here is a very famous still life painting, ‘Sunflowers‘ by Vincent van Gogh.
Also his ‘Still life with drawing board‘, 1889, is a self-portrait in still life form, with Van Gogh depicting some items of his personal life.
Well, the 20th century is where still-life was made with different styles; like fauvism, abstract art, cubism, futurism, surrealism, modernism, pop art, photorealism…
Then, the 21st century, digital art…
And what about the meanings?
Those naturals or man-mades also had some meanings in the composition, you will find different meanings in different sources, I’d like to share some of them:
Apple: Love, knowledge, wisdom, joy, death; in religious works temptation, sin
Artichoke: Heaven and hell, or earthly love
Asparagus: Heaven and hell, or symbol of peace
Ant: Hard work and attention to the harvest
Ivy: Eternal life
Poppy: Power, sleep, death
Peach: Truth and salvation
Rose: Virgin Mary, transience, Venus, love
Strawberry: Fruit of heaven
Sunflowers: Faithfulness, divine love, devotion
Tulip: Showiness, nobility
It’s quite interesting and joyful to watch those symbols in old paintings.
And about the drawing, I wanted to experiment still life, because it is part of the tutorial process for me and I didn’t photograph the drawing process, because I think still life is about the composition of the chosen objects, the sense of dimension and solid shapes, lights&darks etc.
Candle: Passing of time, faith in God(when burning), death and/or corruption of matter(when burnt down)
Grape: Symbol of Christ
Cat: Illicit love
Clock: Passing of time
Bird: Soul after death
Feather: Hope, faith, freedom, heaven
Bee: Hope, the fragility of life
Butterfly: Hope, the fragility of life, transformation, the resurrection of Christ
Cherry: The symbol of Jesus’ blood
Mirror: Truth or vanity
Shells: In religious works saints, pilgrimages
Skull and bones: Mortality
Sword: Power, protection, authority, courage
So after that, is it the same when you view a still-life painting or just started to look at it with different eyes? If you are interested in the topic, dig deeper then you are going to find much more information, great paintings of many painters, many interesting things.
So, is there anything you like to add? Do you enjoy still-life, how likely you feel like it’s your painting type? Drop a comment and let me know!
Nice sketching Y’all!