Beauty, death, their presence in each other and in the everyday: this timeless theme was approached in a new and compelling way by the Dutch still life painters at the beginning of the 17th century. The new approach was to use everyday objects as impactful rather than subtle symbols and to generate astonishing verisimilitude. The intention was to attract the viewer’s attention and turn it into a profound contemplation of the underlying theme.
The effect is seen most obviously in the explicit Vanitas paintings of skulls, candles, timepieces etc. It is also present in the generally more sophisticated still life paintings of the period with disarranged glassware, flowers and fruit and fading light. These elements combine to generate an appreciation of natural beauty and human skill and the ultimate futility of that beauty and skill, of given the certain intrusion of death.
Dutch still life painting has proved directly influential with many modern photographers. Part of the connection is the still life painters' emphasis on lighting and their de-emphasis of visible brushwork in the search for surface realism, which is seemingly the natural province of photography. There are numerous photographic artists who have been inspired by Dutch still life from the ‘faithful’ recreations of Sharon Core, Bas Meeuws, Paulette Tavormina and many others to the shattered mirrors and explosions of Ori Gersht.