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Still Life Artists and Two Art Forms

Proteas nr 14
Proteas nr 14
by Annemarie du Plooy
by Jadri Barnard

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Still life artists comprise of both painters and photographers. Although photography is a comparatively new phenomenon, painting definitely is not. Still life paintings, as an art form, find its antecedents in the ancient tombs of Egypt tombs and wall depictions and floor mosaics of Rome. It is neither evocative like landscape paintings, nor emotional like portraits, yet it was kept alive through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, continuing to the twentieth century by inspirational painters.

Periodic Still Life Painters and their Art

Still life artists expressed their creativity by capturing inanimate visuals. The expression, ‘still life’ implies visual depictions of inanimate objects like vessels, fruits, flowers, books, and a host of every day objects.

These everyday objects inspired iconic painters like:

In the West, still life art had a Christian religious theme throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The following painters discontinued this trend:

The sixteenth century saw an evolving interest in the natural world. Wealth patrons created curio cabinets by collecting animal and mineral specimens. Such specimens became popular subjects of still life paintings.

Popular specimens include:

In the year 1600, artists diffused natural specimens and natural illustration. Joachim Beuckelaer created realistic depictions of raw meat to portray the dangers of inebriation and lechery. The leading artist of the seventeenth century, Caravaggio, applied naturalism to still life paintings. This century also witnessed the growth of symbolic paintings such as:

By the eighteenth century, kitchen table paintings gained prominence. The nineteenth century saw the influence of Impressionist and Post-Impressionistic paintings. Vincent van Gogh’s still paintings depicted items from his personal life.

Transition to Still Life Photography

Still life photography is rooted in a romantic tradition of painting techniques. The motive is to represent the natural world by experimenting with different compositions and creating a chiaroscuro effect on the objects of composition. In its early days, the cameras were operated in a dark room. Through a pinhole positioned on one wall, the outside world would be projected on the opposite side. The image reflected would be upside down but in a vivid color.

In a nutshell, a photograph and its instrument are constantly in a state of evolution, so is the technique and style of photography, which is also constantly evolving. Although the techniques followed by the two art forms are different, the concept pertains to capturing still life, now having transitioned from the portrayal of inanimate objects to natural elements.