Art Cooking: Dutch and Flemish Still Life Painting

Art Cooking: Dutch and Flemish Still Life Painting

throughout history food has served a subject matter inspiration and of course sustenance for artists food has also been the art on a number of occasions this week we delve into the first decades of a 17th century to consider the preponderance of Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings that showcase a dazzling array of delicacies and treasures from around the world while they don't so much demonstrate the way people actually ate and drink they're immensely revealing and rather easy on the eyes nonetheless instead of a cookbook we're working from this catalogue from an exhibition at the Moritz house Museum in The Hague they chose an exquisite painting for the cover this still life with cheeses almonds and pretzels by Clara Peters from about 16 15 and we're gonna focus on recreating this one she made a number of remarkable still life paintings but I don't have access to these varieties of stunning flowers nor the culinary prowess to make this refined of a meat pie I think we've all seen enough of me arranging elaborate presentations of seafood after art cooking dolly and I don't have the heart nor the wherewithal to come close to assembling this spread of birds in fact what makes most of the meals still-life paintings of this era so exceptional is what makes them difficult to reproduce this was the Dutch Golden Age after all after fighting to free themselves from Spanish rule the Dutch Republic became an independent country over the course of the 17th century dominating international trade and experiencing a period of unprecedented prosperity the Dutch East India Company founded in 1602 brought in staples as well as luxury goods from around the world for those profiting off of these advancements a diverse array of foods and decorations were readily available oh wait are we cooking today right right first up is the humble pretzel which was eaten by both the elite and non elite alike I've made some dough in advance using a recipe I'll link to in the description which I let rise overnight in the fridge we're going to turn this out onto a work surface and divide it into smaller chunks of dough then we Pat one down with our fingertips to form a rough wreck Hinkel roll it up and then start to work it out into a long rope when it seems to be long enough loop it into the shape we see in the painting or at least do your best well I'm ruling out more of these let's talk pretzels or is the Dutch call them they seem to have surfaced in Europe sometime in the medieval period and there are numerous and conflicting origin stories but the general consensus is that this was food for fasting in the Christian faith we see it first illustrated in a 12th century manuscript and then it definitely appears as a Lenten food in Broyles masterpiece of 1559 of the battle between Carnival and Lent we see them in this happy painting of a baker and his wife proudly presenting their wares to other proud Baker's announced the availability of their fine pretzels in this picture from around 1660 and then a variation of the same subject matter by a different artist a couple decades later but anyhow the pretzel was quite popular in the 17th century Netherlands both in its sweet-and-salty iterations and in both its soft and crispy forms you'll be pleased to know I got marginally better at making this shape as I went so after those have sat under a damp towel for a half hour to rise a bit we take the important step of giving them a quick dip in an alkaline solution the real way to do this is to use a food grade lye but we're doing a workaround of baking soda that has been previously baked in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour supposedly this alters the chemical composition of the baking soda to make it perform more like lye we add about a quarter of a cup of this to water and bring it to a simmer and then you gently dip your pretzels into the solution for 10 seconds on one side and another 10 seconds on the reverse what happens here is that the starches on the surface of the dough instantly gelatinize and break proteins down into small peptide chains these will brown quickly in the oven giving us that pretzel color and tasty flavor after that it's back onto the parchment lined baking sheet now we add some sea salt not because we see any in the painting but because it will taste oh so much better salt was a luxury item at the time and was of course included in meal still-life paintings quite frequently stored elegantly in a fancy salt cellar like this and when they're ready we'll send them into the oven to bake at 325 for 50 minutes rotating the pans halfway through and checking to make sure they've hardened to a crisp next up comes cheese and a lot of it you'll admire the gorgeous stack of cheese in our source painting composed of a large half wheel of howdah a small sheep's milk cheese on top of that and in front of that there is a dark grayish green cheese that probably came from the island of tehsil and got its color from parsley or horseradish juice the cloud approved fairly easy to source yes this is my version of the Dutch pronunciation named after the Dutch city where it was traded it's an insanely delicious cow's milk cheese that gets better and crumbly er as it ages and crystallizes our cheese is younger but you can see how pagers has rendered her aged Takada with such detail and care even showing the hole made by the cheese tester who scoops out a plug and then reinsert sit after testing for the Magnificent greenish cheese in front I could not find anything remotely similar a kind cheese monger directed me to this Monta alva cheese a Spanish goat's milk cheese that has a slightly greenish rind sorry I tried the smaller squarish cheese on top I couldn't find either this whole project would have likely been easier if I was actually in the Netherlands but we have an American sheep's milk cheese instead that has herbs on the outside and a creamier paste but it's delicious and we're gonna be eating these too you can find many grande cheese stacks in still life paintings of this time cheese was not an import item but produced in large amounts mostly in the northern Netherlands it was consumed locally and relatively inexpensively but the abundance and variety on display in these works would have certainly signaled luxury cheese's evoke prosperity because it was a major export item and a point of pride for the Dutch also butter with all those dairy cows around you can make a lot of butter as well and on top of the cheeses you'll see a plate with curls of butter we have some French butter today which is at least from the right side of the Atlantic and a handy little tool I never knew existed until now I'm quite confident this wasn't the way they did it then but hey we're achieving roughly the same effect now we need to find our best approximation for the Chinese porcelain dish from the wanly period on the lower right of the painting there was an influx of Chinese porcelain during the early 17th century brought in by the Dutch East India Company and snapped up by an eager audience with surplus income to spend they called it crack porcelain after the name for the Portuguese ships that delivered it by the time our painting was made porcelain would have been quite common in the Netherlands but still considered more special than the alternative blue and white ceramic ware made a nearby Delft hey we see you eating those oysters we'll be repurposing this plate that was my grandmother's and is decidedly not Chinese but made in Germany from an adapted Chinese design into the plate go almonds which would have been costly and came from the Mediterranean although ours are from somewhere in the vicinity of the California coast also raisins which would have come from the south as well and dried figs these were difficult to come by but much more plentiful during this time of abundance and making more and more appearances and recipes of the era and we can't forget bread pagers included this little yeasty loaf hiding behind the wine this wouldn't have been uncommon at the time but was regardless of luxury as it was made from wheat and most of the less-fortunate ate a denser rye bread I scanned our local bakeries for something roughly similar in nature and landed on this most exotic of breads that travelled all the way from a factory in Torrance California it met the qualifications of being round and made from wheat a classic American export of the 20th century there's also a lidded wine glass in the painting which is a facade of Annie's glass made at the time by Italian glass blowers working in and around Antwerp wine was a near fixture in these paintings while the common folk mostly drink beer wine was part of a good meal for the upper classes usually imported from Germany France or Spain it not only signaled luxury but also gave painters the chance to show off their skills in render finely detailed glasses we're gonna use this lovely glass which has no lid and was hand blown in America by an American we do our best now it's time to start assembling our still life which were beginning by creating a dark backdrop which pagers and other artists often did allowing the objects set against it to stand out like this enormous 15 pound half wheel of cheese while I'm arranging it's important to note that the Dutch did not invent the meal still-life frescoes and mosaics uncovered in Pompeii from before 79 CE II reveal fabulous still life spreads of fruits fish and fowl but this moment in Dutch history is when the genre solidified and flourished beforehand in the region food had been depicted in paintings of the Last Supper and in numerous kitchen scenes populated with people banquets with diners gathered all around and family portraits set in front of a laid table but figures in these scenes gradually started creeping away into the distance and food more and more into the foreground early independent meal still lifes tended to have a moral component showing the difference between rich and poor and sometimes work in a landscape on the side in the first decades of the seventeenth century we begin to see just the table and the delicacies without people and with less overt moral agendas these were not meals as they were usually presented but carefully selected and arranged objects determined with regard to color form texture and luster we're using a copper pitcher instead of the ceramic Bellarmine jug in the painting but it gets a nice reflection which was important in these still lifes especially those by clara haters in the pewter lid you can just make out the white bonneted reflection of the artist well this later became a more common practice pagers was one of the first artists north of the Alps to paint self-portraits and reflective surfaces and she did this masterfully we know precious little about this artist whose earliest known still life dates to 1607 there are 40 known paintings attributed to her identified because she thankfully signed them in often clever ways like on the engraved silver Bridal knife pictured in this work we conclude from the markings on her panels and copper plates that she worked in or near Antwerp a city that reached its economic and cultural peak in the 16th century until it came under Spanish rule and many of its artisans and scientists fled north her work was likely well known in its day and collected early on by important and royal patrons we believe this painting is probably a self-portrait as I try to finagle our objects into roughly the same arrangement of our painting it becomes clear that while painters items are incredibly realistically rendered the view she provides us isn't photographic there's a sense of depth created with overlapping objects but the space is collapsed in a manner we cannot duplicate and all of her items are rendered in relatively equal focus we can't say for sure what these paintings really meant at the time they were made they weren't considered the pinnacle of artistic achievement that was reserved for historical biblical and mythological subject matter but these paintings could have represented hospitality hanging on the wall of the well-to-do and welcoming guests or perhaps were non perishable tableau of Plenty that were given to others as gifts they also could have served as warnings of the dangers of excess there are two figures engraved on the handle of painters Bridal knife with the words fetus faith and tempo short for temperance two of the seven virtues that were depicted mostly in female form which calls to mind the Dutch saying that translates to something like dairy on top of dairy is the work of the devil or if you want it to rhyme like a dozen Dutch butter on cheese the devil to please an urge to moderation indicating that putting both cheese and butter on your bread is excessive there is also some thought that aged cheese's might be a reminder of decay transience and death similar to the Van itas paintings of the time meant to evoke the fleeting nature of life what we do know is that these paintings illustrate with astounding workmanship the Magnificent spread of goods available in the Low Countries during this golden age in our own time where global markets bring goods from around the world to our doorstep with a mere tap of a screen it's more difficult now than it was then to imagine the sumptuous world Tiye vocht buy these items although these actual foods will wither and rot no scarcity or want exists within these fixed worlds created by Clara Peters and her contemporaries they are a glimpse into an extraordinary moment in history and they are oh so stunning to behold want to see more unlikely mashups between art history and cooking support us on patreon thanks to all of our patrons for supporting the art assignment especially Vincent app' and Indianapolis Holmes Realty


  • Amanda Chan says:

    I love how even today, we're still taking still life pictures of food – although instead of carefully arranging the food for a portrait, we're doing the same for a picture to be shared on instagram or social media. It'll be interesting to see years from now what the trends will be seen as from our time. Thanks for another amazing episode!

  • Samovar maker says:

    the pretzels be like θ

  • Franklin&Tangelo345 says:

    I find the fact that you said howda instead of Gouda irritating. Other than that, this video was great!

  • Chris Frank says:

    Now I need to get some gouda

  • Milch Tüte says:

    just binge watched all of the videos

  • Faultty says:

    Self insert by a female lady! Niiice.

  • Summer Liang says:

    I approve of your pronounciation of gouda! Go you!!

  • Tamar Ziri says:

    7:50 Those are not raisins! Those are dates!

  • midei says:

    Thank you! I’ve enjoyed this episode immensely

  • Omoshne says:

    Being from Flanders myself, it's crazy how much of the plates, cutlery and decorations from ~300 years ago shown here, are still exactly the same today in many old people's houses. Like they were the last generation that existed in it's own cultural bubble, before foreign cultural influence took over.

  • Ed Adams says:

    I thought I’d buy the book you are using. Amazon wants $3200…

  • Lily Nguyen says:

    i kinda just wanna take a giant bite out of the cheese wheels

  • Pontus Andersson says:

    I want to know the music in this video especially that 9 min in!

  • Wolfferoni says:

    This is so fascinating and also a great way to educate people because everyone's curious about food.

  • Joe Bandura says:

    Really kind of what to know how those pretzels turned out.

  • Frog Toad says:

    One of my old art teachers liked showing his students a lot of these paintings at the beginning of his lessons because he knew the class was right around most people's lunch times as well. He would also compare them a lot to modern day instagram photos.

  • BonBonBonBonBonBon says:

    Art Cooking is one of my favourite series on YouTube, thank you!

  • Theliterarykid says:

    Gosh Art Cooking videos always make me hungry lol

  • Max McCormick says:

    Heating the baking soda converts it from bicarbonate to carbonate, which is a stronger base

  • alekhya katragadda says:

    Baking soda when heated turns into washing soda. I didn't know it was okay to eat washing soda.

  • Henk-Jan Bakker says:

    Your pronunciation of Gouda is so sweet. Love it. Can't wait to hear you say van Gogh the proper way. Although you probably already did that somewhere.
    The green cheese is a famously Frisian cheese spiced with parsley and caraway seeds. It retained the name over the ages but lost it's green color. At least on the inside. It now only has a green shell but inside it's rather traditional pale yellow with black specks. The only actually green cheese is a lime color because it is made with pesto. Not that dark shade. Not that historically accurate.
    Butter curler? Oh yes. Not looking like that but it did exist.
    The call for moderation in the saying….. yeah, technically it was expected.. But when looking at that painting? Just note how small the print is in this abundance. Indeed even then; pfffft.
    But then again. How does cheese get to ripen? Yup. Moderation and frugal use of resources makes you have a great and tasty cheese. So in a way the cheese is not 'memento morii' but indeed a call for moderation….so you get to enjoy it. Old cheese as an icon for the reward of moderation.

  • Big Tired Niece says:

    I read about Peeters in Zing Tsjeng's Forgotten Women series and loved the detail of the self-portrait, so I got ridiculously excited when you started talking about that.

  • Murder Ballad says:

    There's an amazing documentary about still life called ''Apples, Pears and Paint'' … -any of you seen that one….. ? ♥

  • piouppioup says:

    I gave a like because the video is interesting but I hate cheese so much you guys. (I'm French, it's a burden.)

  • firewordsparkler says:

    Mmmm cheese.

  • Max Vieralilja says:

    I thought that in the dish it was dates, not raisins? would they export dates in 17th century?

  • Oliver Bollmann says:

    1) I am glad I'm already eating while watching this, for I'd be hungry! 2) I learned a tonne about still lifes, history, world trade, and cheese, all fascinating 3) We need official AA merch that says "We do our best." 😀 4) Love the dissolve at the end, nice recreation! Loved watching you tear into it with gusto. 🙂

  • Emma Wills says:

    Thank you so much for making this channel- it's really opened my eyes to how much incredible art exists in the world! Also thank you for how consistently undaunted and kind and respectful you are when people have negative comments, different opinions or are cynical about the topics you're covering. I now enjoy talking to my family and friends about art because I have an excellent role model for how to relish their differences in opinion 🙂 This channel is one of my favourite things out of all of the things!

  • Jon says:

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on how anyone could confuse Van Meegeren with Vermeer.

  • PoseidonXIII says:

    Your right! Pretzels are fancy and common at the same time.

  • janicew9 says:

    These videos cause me to think so much more than other art content I've found. Thank you for creating them!

  • Kelly Ramirez says:

    This shows food is love, food is life.

  • Darkvine says:

    Cheese is still expensive, even here in Flanders and the Netherlands today, looks like you spent a fortune on cheese to make this vid, any excuse will do I guess 🧀🔪

  • Cuong Nguyen says:

    Can you make a video about the artist william bouguereau?

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