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Still life with fruit and macaws: 295

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 15: Dutch Gallery


Still life with fruit and macaws


Painter: Ast, Balthasar van der




Label text from the exhibition ‘Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800’, on display at The Fitzwilliam Museum from 26 November 2019 until 31 August 2020: Still life with fruit and macaws Painted on copper for maximum luminosity, this brightly coloured image was designed to delight the senses. On the one hand, it celebrates abundance, luxury, and the exotic with succulent fruit, two New World macaws, and two Chinese blue-and-white porcelain dishes made for export to Europe. However, closer inspection reveals insects on the fruit, leaves curling and turning brown, and a pomegranate past its best. Such details were included as a coded moralising message to show the destructive effects of time, calling to mind the brevity of life and warning against worldly vanity: the fruit will rot, the birds will die, and the porcelain will break.

Balthasar van der Ast (1593/94 –1657) Utrecht, Netherlands, 1622 Oil on copper Daniel Mesman Bequest, 1834 (295) 66 Dish with pomegranate tree This unusually large mid-seventeenth-century Chinese blue-and-white dish is embellished with a stylised pomegranate tree-of-life. A pair of split-open pomegranates nestle at the centre of its trunk, their seeds deliberately exposed as a sign of their reproductive capacity. Like the porcelain dishes in van der Ast’s painting (displayed to the left), this expensive dish was made for a wealthy European, the luxury and exoticism of the pomegranate motif echoing that of the porcelain.

Oil painting on a copper plate, depicting fruit and macaws. The various fruits includes grapes, cherries, pears, apricots and pomegranate. In the foreground are a pair of macaws, one red and yellow, the other yellow and dark green-black, as well as a pair of Ming blue and white porcelain dishes.

Legal notes

Bequeathed by Daniel Mesman

Measurements and weight

Height: 20.5 cm
Width: 26.8 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Utrecht ⪼ Holland

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1834) by Mesman, Daniel


17th Century#
Production date: AD 1622

School or Style


Materials used in production

Oil paint

Components of the work

Support composed of copper

Techniques used in production

Painting (image-making) : Oil on copper

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: B. van der Ast
  • Location: To left
  • Type: Signature
  • Text: fe. 1622
  • Location: To left
  • Type: Date

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: 295
Primary reference Number: 1078
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Tuesday 25 April 2023 Last processed: Thursday 7 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Paintings, Drawings and Prints

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Still life with fruit and macaws" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-05-25 22:39:40

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