Jan Pauwel Gillemans
Flanders (Stupid Flanders)
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This lush painting is the work of the rather mysterious painter Jan Pauwel Gillemans the Elder (1618-1675). We don’t know too much about this son of a goldsmith who spent his entire life in his native Antwerp. Beyond those few sketchy details, we only can guess about his life based on his work and that of his son, Jan Pauwel Gillemans the Younger (1651-1704) who was also a still-life painter.
Gillemans the Elder was of the “Flemish Stuff on a Table” school of still-life painting. He excelled at depictions of fruit and flowers and used these as a way of hinting at Biblical subject matter. For instance, in the piece pictured above, the fruits and flowers that he has selected allude to the Passion of Christ and have overtones of the Eucharist. The blooms surround a cartouche containing a representation of an angel, and, an eagle sits above the entire composition.
Let’s see if we can read Gillemans’ message. He’s allowed the lower portion of the composition to be overtaken by spiky plants and those with thorns—roses, thistles, hawthorn, blackthorn, rose-hips and raspberries, all of which signify the Crown of Thorns. Above this, we have grapes, wheat stalks, corn, poppies, cornflowers and narcissus—bountiful symbols which work in conjunction with the chalice. The eagle, of course, is a representation of the Resurrection. The butterflies signify the same.
I’m not sure about the parrots. I think they’re just there because they’re groovy.
Besides, those Flemish…they’d put a bird on a table whenever they got a chance. I’m just happy to see these parrots are alive and not in a state of decay like most of the birds in Flemish paintings.