Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Still Life with Oysters, a Silver Tazza, and Glassware

Willem Claesz Heda (Dutch, Haarlem? 1594–1680 Haarlem)
Oil on wood
19 5/8 x 31 3/4 in. (49.8 x 80.6 cm)
Credit Line:
From the Collection of Rita and Frits Markus, Bequest of Rita Markus, 2005
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 635
With his Haarlem colleague Pieter Claesz, Heda was one of the leading painters of the so-called monochrome banquet piece in the Netherlands. In this panel of 1635 he shows off his virtuoso ability to describe reflections and arrange elliptical shapes.
This impressive picture is typical of Heda's work in the mid-1630s. On the left, empty oyster shells rest in front of a plate of oysters yet to be consumed. The ebony and ivory handle of a knife extends over the edge of the table, and a gleaming spoon artfully leads the eye to a shard of glass and other curving forms. A cut lemon, a single pit, and a paper cone of spice (probably pepper) rest on another pewter plate in the foreground. In Heda's day, the printed paper would have been recognized as a page torn from an almanac, and perhaps as a reminder that one's days on earth are numbered. A more obvious sign that worldly pleasures quickly pass is the wineglass that has tipped over and broken.

The pewter plates are balanced visually by the silver tazza lying on its side, which reveals the untarnished interior of the base. The way the base touches the plate and lemon peel is characteristic of Heda, as is the constellation of highlights playing over the elaborately worked surface of the tazza. Behind the tazza to the left is a glass of beer, and to the right a pewter plate and a fancy glass pitcher. An open, leather-covered knife case to the right mirrors the position of the knife to the left, and draws attention to the artist's signature. Walnuts are scattered to the far right, and hazelnuts below the stem of the tazza and at the foot of the large roemer. In this centerpiece of the composition, Heda displays his virtuosity in describing reflections and transparency. A tall window is reflected three times in the bowl of the glass, and the beaded molding on the glass (at the top of the prunted stem) is echoed more than once in the wine. Indeed the variety of reflected light throughout the picture—while somewhat open to question on optical grounds—is extraordinary. But that has little to do with what the artist has achieved in this so-called monochrome banquet piece, or banketje—actually an essay in silvers, greens, browns, whites, and yellows.

Heda had painted similar designs (if not motifs) by 1630, and closely related groups of objects by 1632. A panel dated 1632 in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, includes a roemer with comparable reflections (they are virtually the same in other works), a similar tazza tipped in the other direction, the same glass pitcher in the right background (but facing the other way), a plate with oysters, and a plate with a lemon shifted somewhat to the right. The same or a similar tazza, in nearly the same position, is found in a still life by Heda dated 1632 (private collection). Similar compositions and motifs were painted by Pieter Claesz at about the same time.

A copy of this picture is catalogued by Vroom (1980).

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): HEDA ·1635·
C. Freiherr Grote, Schloss Wedesbüttel (until 1886; his estate sale, Heberle & Lempertz, Cologne, June 7–8, 1886, part 2, no. 93, for 2,000 marks to Oldenbourg); [Galerie Oldenbourg, 1886–1924; anonymous sale, F. Muller, Amsterdam, June 26, 1923, no. 18, for fl. 3,300, bought in; their sale, F. Muller, Amsterdam, June 25, 1924, no. 131]; Abraham Albert Andriesse, Amsterdam, later New York, later Scarsdale (until d. 1965); his son-in-law, Frits Markus, New York (1965–d. 1996); his widow, Rita Markus, New York (1996–d. 2005)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

N. R. A. Vroom. De Schilders van het Monochrome Banketje. Amsterdam, 1945, pp. 193, 211, no. 186, fig. 179, dates it 1633.

N. R. A. Vroom. A Modest Message as Intimated by the Painters of the "Monochrome Banketje". Vol. 2, Schiedam, The Netherlands, 1980, pp. 67–68, no. 339a, ill., states that its present location is unknown; catalogues a panel sold at Paul Brandt, Amsterdam, November 25, 1969, no. 8, which he calls a later replica of the MMA work.

Walter Liedtke in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2005–2006." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 64 (Fall 2006), pp. 36–37, ill. (color).

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 65, 67, fig. 81 (color).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. xi, 312–13, no. 73, colorpl. 73.

Walter Liedtke. "The Milkmaid" by Johannes Vermeer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2009, p. 9, fig. 9 (color).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 286, no. 227, ill. pp. 224, 286 (color).

Malve Anna Falk in Die Gemäldegalerie Oldenburg: eine europäische Altmeistersammlung. Ed. Sebastian Dohe et al. Oldenburg, 2017, pp. 64, 339–40, no. 212, ill. p. 339 (color) and on cover.

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