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Willem Claesz Heda—Banquet Piece with Mince Pie, 1635

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"A decade or two later, commercial goods from all over the world began to be imported with more frequency. Such products became necessary, widely available property for everyday Dutchmen. A group of Haarlem-based painters, led by Pieter Claesz
and Willem Claesz Heda, introduced banketjes (“banquet pieces”) into the still-life repertoire. These sumptuous paintings reflect and celebrate this increasing prosperity and the country’s international exploration (and dominance).

"Heda’s Banquet Piece with Mince Pie from 1635 gathers a far more extravagant spread than Peeter’s quaint breakfast scene. The warm and muted palette here exemplifies the so-called “monochrome” style Dutch artists preferred for still lifes and landscapes between the 1620s and late 1640s. The gold, silver, and pewter accents pop against the neutral background and white tablecloth. The scale of this painting shows these foods and objects near life-size, and viewers are further drawn into the scene by the plates and lemon peel balancing precariously off the table ledge.

"Among the offerings here are olives and a lemon imported from across the Mediterranean, oysters with vinegar, and precious seasonings like salt and peppercorn. The star of this banquet, however, is the mince pie. Seasoned with expensive imported currants and spices from India and the Near East, mince pie was a delicacy served only on festive occasions.

"As Washington’s National Gallery of Art notes, among these trappings of wealth and indulgence, familiar omens of impermanence—and ultimately death—linger in the picture, where much is amiss: glasses are broken and goblets toppled; the pie lies half-eaten; the candle has gone out. The empty oyster shells littering the table advise a similar moral caution. As today, oysters were regarded as powerful aphrodisiacs. Juxtaposed with the uneaten roll in the center of the painting, the oysters suggest that these unseen banqueters, after enjoying the pleasures of the flesh, have ignored their salvation, signified by the bread of life.

"In his 1990 book of essays Looking at the Overlooked, art historian Norman Bryson calls such a scene—of tipped-over goblets, stacked plates, rumpled tablecloths, and broken glasses—a 'still life of disorder' that represents the ongoing battle between vice and pleasure, virtue and abstention. But symbols are often slippery: A broken glass, for instance, might also stand for wealth. It was an odd custom for pub patrons to throw glasses over their heads and pay extra for broken glassware (anyone who couldn’t afford to do this drank beer with the unwashed masses)."


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Back then everything had a meaning. The flowers of a certain color and type held deep meaning. Now I learn certain foods. Could not do that now. Even to purchase a box of cereal there must be 25 types, vegetables whether fresh are canned the variety is crazy. Very nice painting, thanks for the nice post and I always enjoy the comments.


Thanks, Gayle.
For the first six decades of my life, I understood an English "mince pie" to be a small pie containing ground meat, generally beef or lamb, on which ketchup (or Tomato Sauce here in Australia) was poured. It was only really a decade ago that I learned this was not the case at all - it is a FRUIT pie, generally served around Christmastime. Marge bought me a pack of 6 for Christmas one year, and I quite enjoyed them. Now, my Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a pack of Mince Pies. They are generally about the size of a small tart, or doughnut, approx. 2" in diameter, and contain "currants and spices" as mentioned above.
And do forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the current practice of people in one country on our planet to scull/skull their wine/brandy and throw the glass over their shoulder, whilst loudly exclaiming "Salute"? Does anybody know where that is? This old fellow's forgotten.


You're welcome, Jerry. As Bill notes, those imbibers can leave a mess.

Libby and Barb, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the commentary as well as the painting.


The painting is intriguing, and the history explains why. I wondered why I had a funny feeling" about the leftovers, the tablecloth tells it all!

Loved the commentary as well..nice puzzle--thanks!!


Those dissolute banqueters! Tsk. Thanks, Gayle.


@Bommom Thanks for the interesting still life and the analysis of it, as well. Most interesting.