Vibrant flowers, exquisite vases, precious collector’s items – the artists of the seventeenth century were adept at capturing the fragile beauty of the world around them. With the greatest virtuosity, precision and dedication, they brought out all its splendor and opulence. It was only at the end of the sixteenth century that the still life had emerged as an art genre in its own right and enjoyed a growing popularity. With Timeless Beauty. A History of Still Life, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden is dedicating a comprehensive special exhibition to this genre. Works from the gallery’s own collection, shed light on the genre’s history and development as well as its significance for art history.
The exhibition invites visitors to explore the world of the still life and its mysterious visual language: What exactly is a still life? What messages and purposes do these depictions have? What allegories and symbols are concealed within these motifs?
Still lifes were the showpieces of decorative room design, often employing captivating visual illusions (“trompe-l’œil”), in which the visual effect took centre stage. Over 90 paintings from the museum’s own collection, including works by Frans Snijders, Willem Claesz. Heda, Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Maria van Oosterwijck, Adriaen van Utrecht, Willem Kalf, Abraham Mignon and Rachel Ruysch, tell stories of wonder, exploration, collecting – and decay. At the same time, they bear witness to world views, scientific curiosity, economic interests and colonial exploitation. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister rich collection of seventeenth-century still lifes is ideally suited to illustrating these connections and introducing the viewer to the beginnings of the genre and its presence in portrait and genre painting. Particularly in Christian art, the symbolic meaning of individual plant and animal motifs played an important role. Other sections provide an overview of the genre’s diversity: ceremonial still lifes, hunting scenes, forest floor compositions, flower and fruit pieces, vanitas paintings.
The show is rounded off by loans from the Skulpturensammlung, the Kupferstich-Kabinett, the Grünes Gewölbe, the Porzellansammlung, the Kunstgewerbemuseum and the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden as well as the Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek. Some of the paintings have been restored especially for this presentation and after a long time are once again available to the public.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated book entitled Still Life – Timeless Beauty, edited by the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Konstanze Krüger, the curator of this exhibition (published by the Hatje Cantz Verlag, ISBN: 978-3-7757-5113-1).