Still Waters

There's no background here, no gradation of color, no obstacles to the handful of objects in the foreground.  Just a velvety, warm, black surface extending to embrace the fruits, flowers and porcelain in fluid, graceful shadow.  It is simple, yet rich.  It doesn't overwhelm, but it has depth and power – a perfect balance.  This still life was painted by the 17th century Spanish painter Francisco Zubaran and perhaps only he could have manipulated such a contentious color so effortlessly.

The objects in this still life humble.  Lemons, oranges, a flower, a porcelain cup.  They could be the favored possessions of any Spanish peasant family. But the simplicity stops there.  The spacing of these things are a mathematical reckoning.  Each grouping is its own galaxy, with its own axis, its own living geometry, its own starless sky.

There is solitude and solemnity here.  Quiet reverberates around each object – a vibrnt atmosphere.  The little tray holding the lemons reflects their cadmium image like a still and silver pool.  The sea pink was placed on the edge of the saucer with such care, it might have been a religious icon.  The leaves crest the group of oranges like a Roman consul's laurel wreath.  Motionless, yet stirring with beauty and meaning, these objects are a blaze of silent glory.  The composition is an intellectual exercise, and example of stunning precision.  The painting's serent asceticism challenges the richness of color and detail – and portrays their tranquil confrontation.

Just as shadow threatens to take over, at the same time it highlights the prey it is about to envelop.  This is the essence of chiaroscuro, using the dark to emphasize the light that is in danger of flickering out.  But the candle remains lit, and it does not curse this magnificent darkness.

Never was life so still, and never was stillness so alive. 

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12 responses to “Still Waters

  1. http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/c/chiaroscuro.html You described this piece of art as within a poem. Thanks. The link above will shed light on the subject for many like me. lol…….

  2. [this is insightful and magnificent]
    thankyou.

  3. Gorgeous! It looks so quiet.

  4. What a vivid painting! Thank you for sharing!

  5. This reminds me of another still-life: the one depicted in William Carlos Williams' The Red Wheelbarrow: So much depends/ upon/ a red wheelbarrow/ glazed with rain/ water/ beside the white/ chickens !

  6. I remember this picture!!!

  7. it's so magical how your words bring this painting to life.

  8. I surely am, e2c! In fact the painting that I had in mind for this post was actually a Cotan still life, which I had mistakenly attributed to Zubaran. Cotan's arrangements are an exact parabola, and they have such an eerie, quiet power – he did influence Zubaran's work, and it's no surprise!
    I have a reproduction of the above hanging in my kitchen. It seemed right.

  9. I wanted to do research on Sanchez Cotan, back when I 1st started grad school, but there really was next to nothing on him… Which is odd, considering how powerful his work was – though not all of it. (My prof. told me to go and look at reproductions of some of his *other* still lifes, which made the point far more effectively than words ever could have… He was either brilliant or terrible, depending on his choice of subjects; just no in-between.)I've always liked the lighting and theatricality in a lot of Spanish paintings from this era. ("Las Meninas" is a favorite of mine.)

  10. Lovely. Composition and skillful talent. Hidden light source and scintilating color palette. If it weren't for the citrus branch arching over the tea set it is composed as a tryptich but with that gentle arch glides into a complex compostion. There is nothing more perfectly visual than citrus combined with classic articles. I love this because of the presentation of the three gifts to each of us who look at it. Like Ichiban with fruit. The hand rubbed hardwood table top like water smoothed agate.

  11. I'm very surprised I never saw this painting before. Now I want to see it up close. I'm completely taken with the surface and edge of the table.

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