Over the next four days I want to show you a set of four paintings by the Flemish painter Joachim Beuckelaer. His favoured painting genres were still lifes and market and kitchen scenes. Beuckelaer was born in Antwerp in 1533 and was the nephew of Pieter Aertsen the Dutch historical painter whom he trained under. By his late twenties Beucklaer was a master painter in his own right although a number of his paintings were based on themes used by Aertsen, the general opinion was that the standard of the former pupil’s work was greater than that of his master. Both Aersten and Beuckelaer were renowned for their paintings depicting scenes from inside a kitchen and of scenes at the market both of which always included many still-life depictions of food. As is the case of my featured paintings over the following days, Beuckelaer would also include a relevant biblical subject within the painting of domestic life and maybe it was intention to compare the stress of physical life on this earth and spiritual life. It is interesting to note that the religious subject in each painting is consigned to the background of each work of art.
The set of paintings I am featuring over the next few days is entitled The Four Elements, which Beuckelaer painted between 1569 and 1570 and they take as their theme the four classical elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire. It is thought that the set of paintings were destined for an Italian patron.
Today I am featuring The Four Elements: Water, which was completed by Beuckelaer in 1569. Here in front of us is a scene at a fish market. The artist has depicted twelve different identifiable varieties of fish. Some art historians believe that the twelve represent the twelve disciples. It is thought that he was the first painter to depict the market fish stalls at Antwerp. Before us we gaze at the stall holders and we start to feel a little uncomfortable with the way they stare out at us. The older lady to the left has a resigned expression on her face as if it is “just another day selling fish”. She is not smiling. She looks tired as she holds out the tray of fish for us to examine. The man to the right, who maybe her son, rests his right hand on a trestle table as he proudly shows us the underbelly of a large fish. It is interesting to look at the left background and see how Beuckelaer has used steep perspective in the way he depicts the bustling street going off into the distance.
However what is more fascinating and in some ways more bizarre is what we see though the central arch in the background. This is not part of the landscape to the rear of the fish market but is in fact a scene from the bible. It is the time when Christ appeared to the disciples. This was the third sighting of Christ since the Resurrection and the scene is based on the Gospel by Luke 5: 1-11, in which we are told that Jesus told the despondent fishermen, including Simon Peter, who were washing their nets after a fruitless days fishing, to “put out to the deep water and once again let down their nets”. Peter questioned the merit of this advice but did so and they caught innumerable fish and this has been referred to as the Miracle of the Fishermen.
This is a picture, which has a wonderful array of colours , fascinating characters and along with the other three works makes for a beautiful set of paintings.
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