Beuckelaer is best known today for his market scenes, filled with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, poultry, meats, and fish, which were produced in the third quarter of the sixteenth century in Antwerp. These works heralded developments in seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting, above all with the kitchen and market scenes of Joachim and Peter Wtewael (see the latter’s Kitchen Scene
) and especially those of Frans Snyders. Beuckelaer’s canvas paintings were exported to northern Italy where they influenced the Cremona painter Vincenzo Campi, as well as the Bolognese artists Bartolomeo Passarotti and Annibale Carracci. They additionally fostered the taste in Spain for the early bodegones
of Velázquez. The extraordinary examples that ended up in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples were likely acquired early on by Fernando Álavrez de Toledo y Pimentel, 3rd Duke of Alba (1507–1582), known as the Grand Duke of Alba, in the Netherlands in 1567 through Margaret of Parma, Governor of The Netherlands (1559–67 and 1578–82).
Karel van Mander included a short entry on Joachim Beuckelaer in his Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters
, from the first edition of the Schilder-boek
(1603–1604). There we learn that he was trained by his uncle, Pieter Aertsen (1507/8–1575), who “made him develop the habit of painting everything after life: vegetables, fruit, meat, fowl, fish and suchlike things; by repeatedly doing this he became so sure in mixing his colours that in that respect he became one of the most excellent masters, executing his works with great skill, as it were without effort, so that they had a very fine appearance”. Beuckelaer apparently collaborated with the leading portraitist, Antonio Mor, for whom he painted the draperies of figures, and with Cornelis van Dalem, for whose landscape paintings he added the figures. In 1560, Beuckelaer married Magdalena Schryvers, around the same time that he became a master in the painters’ guild, and they settled in Antwerp where Joachim spent his working life. His panel and canvas paintings largely fall between 1561 and his latest dated works of 1574. Around a dozen are signed, many are monogrammed, and most are dated. Margreet Wolters has observed that Beuckelaer combined monogram and signature, as in The Met’s painting of 1568, only in his later works. This apparently coincided with Beuckelaer’s use of canvas as a support and the export of his paintings to locations where the monogram alone did not suffice for identifying authorship. In addition, Beuckelaer used different spellings for both his first and last name. According to Wolters, the spelling for the signature in the Museum’s painting is a very common one.The Painting:
Until recently, the Fish Market
was only known through two copies that were published in a 1986 exhibition catalogue devoted to Joachim Beuckelaer. Prominently signed, monogrammed, and dated 1568 at the lower left edge of the fishmonger’s wooden table, The Met’s painting boldly displays for the viewer its bounty from the sea. It is a magnificent still life of salmon steaks and whole and cut cod being prepared by the elderly fishmonger, while carp, pike, and herring are artfully arranged on the round table, a wooden tray, and in a copper bowl at the right within reach of two discerning housewives. All is presented in dramatic close-up, a compositional strategy first developed in early sixteenth-century Antwerp painting by Quentin Metsys, among others (for example, The Adoration of the Magi
). The scene is set in an idealized market square with architectural features (the classical archway and monumental square piers supporting it) inspired by Sebastiano Serlio’s Architettura
, a treatise on architecture, several volumes of which had been published by the designer Pieter Coecke van Aelst in Antwerp in 1545. Housewives and maids line up, waiting patiently to buy fish for their midday meals, as workers passing through the archway in the background continue their routine exchange of full baskets of fresh fish from the quay for the ones emptied onto the tables at the market stalls.
It is a masterful composition dependent upon a geometric structure of strong verticals, horizontals, and diagonals formed by carefully placed fish and figures, and a lively arrangement of recurring square and round shapes. A rich palette of mauves, reds, and pinks is employed for the costumes of the figures and the flesh of the salmon. Beuckelaer’s animated, rapid brushwork and confident but spontaneous handling are precursors to the later prized execution of Flemish masters like Jordaens and Rubens. The extraordinary impasto passages and parallel hatching with the butt end of the brush that describe the shimmering skin of the pike at the lower right are remarkably modern in their sensibility.
The study of the painting with infrared reflectography has revealed more details about Beuckelaer’s working procedures (see Technical Notes and fig. 3 above). The lively execution of the underdrawing in a dry medium shows the shifts and changes of a developing concept, in particular in the right arm and hand of the fish monger and right arm and hands of the housewife in the red jacket. The housewife in a red jacket at the right originally glanced off to her left, but this was changed in the final paint layers where she meets the apprehensive gaze of the fishmonger. In an apparent attempt to produce greater depth in the composition, Beuckelaer replaced two larger figures in the background in the underdrawing with three smaller ones in the painted layers. Notable as well is the color notation “groen” for green on the sleeve of the fishmonger. Beuckelaer frequently used color notations in his paintings, and this one may refer to the adjacent vest, probably a copper green pigment that has turned brown. Although Beuckelaer often followed his color notations, deviations from the underdrawing to the painted layers have been observed.
The popularity of the fish market scenes led Beuckelaer, as well as his workshop and followers, to produce variants that rearranged the figures and motifs of the composition. The Fish Market
in the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht, Belgium (fig. 1), for example, reverses the position of the fishmonger and the housewife, thereby also subtly shifting the emphasis and meaning of the painting.The Subject:
Unlike Beuckelaer’s earlier treatment of kitchen and market scenes, The Met’s painting does not present a secondary biblical theme in the background, and instead is purely secular. The fact that Beuckelaer ceased the production of his theatrical-theological market scenes in 1566, the year of the great Iconoclasm, cannot be a coincidence. Both this event and developing local warfare with the arrival of Fernando Álavrez de Toledo y Pimentel, 3rd Duke of Alba in the Netherlands in 1567, at the inception of the Eighty Years’ War, disrupted the art market and dictated a change in themes to those that more realistically accommodated buyers.
The popularity of fish market scenes locally in Flanders was in part tied to the growing importance of the fishing industry, especially in centers along the coast from Dunkirk to Scheveningen. Such pictures thus represented the livelihood and the source of wealth of their owners. Increasingly, the market and kitchen scenes were filled with erotic content and indecorous innuendo, expressing punning references to sexual activities. Günter Irmscher has discussed the probable moralizing subtext of such depictions that reflected the influence of the writings of classical authors, who were read for their ethical precepts. Cicero’s De officiis
was especially popular and the spread of its contents was due mainly to Erasmus (1466–1536), who commissioned a compact version of the work in 1501, which appeared in subsequent editions printed in Antwerp. Dirck Volkertsz Coornhert (1522–1590), who like Erasmus was a moralist, translated De officiis
into Dutch in 1561, wherein one reads of “the most contemptible occupations that serve the appetites, such as fishmongers, butchers, cooks, pastry cooks, perfume-sellers, dancers, and all manner of gamesters”. Links between food and sexual pleasures were repeatedly made in these writings, and accompanied by warnings against sensual appetites of all types in favor of moderation.
Although The Met’s painting at first does not appear to portray lewd content, to viewers at the time the succulent pink salmon steaks could have suggested obscene connotations. See, for example, the Fish Market
(Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht; fig. 1); Musée de Strasbourg; and several other copies), where a fish seller hooks a salmon steak over his middle finger in an explicit gesture, while leering at the viewer. Understood in this context, it becomes clear why the old fishmonger in the Museum’s painting, who directly handles the flesh of the salmon, so quizzically casts his eyes in the direction of the middle-aged housewife. As in the poem of the Bruges rederijker
Anthonis de Roovere (active ca. 1482), a wine jar is compared to a lady’s private parts, and an open pot often represented a woman’s pudendum. Here, with hands resolutely folded over her open pot, the lady returns the fishmonger’s gaze, but is clearly unreceptive to any untoward advances from him.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2015; updated 2017
 Karel van Mander, The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters
, from the first edition of Het Schilder-boeck
, Haarlem (1603–1604), trans. and ed. Hessel Miedema, Doornspijk, 6 vols., 1994–99, vol. 1: Text of Lives
; vol. 4: Commentary
 Van Mander 1604, fol. 238r, lines 29–34; Miedema 1994, vol. 1, p. 210.
 Van Mander 1604, fol. 238v, lines 21–22; Miedema 1994, vol. 1, p. 213.
 Van Mander 1604, fol. 269r, lines 9–11; Miedema 1994, vol. 1, p. 334.
 Paul Verbraeken, ed., Joachim Beuckelaer: het markt- en keukenstuk in de Nederlanden 1550–1650
, exh. cat., Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, 1986–87, p. 11; Margaretha Johanna Gerarda Wolters, “Met kool en crijt” De Functie van de ondertekening in de schilderijen van Joachim Beuckelaer
, Ph.D. diss., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2011, p. 294.
 Margreet Wolters email to Maryan Ainsworth, 4/5/16, European Paintings curatorial files.
 Verbraeken 1986–87, no. 17.
 On Beuckelaer’s use of Serlio’s woodcuts as models, see Margreet Wolters, “Creativity and Efficiency: Aspects of Joachim Beuckelaer’s Use of Patterns and Models,” in Making and Marketing, Studies of the Painting Process in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Netherlandish Workshops
, ed. Molly Faries, Turnhout, 2006, pp. 164–73.
 Ibid., pp. 162, 164, 166.
 Margreet Wolters email to Maryan Ainsworth, 4/5/16, European Paintings curatorial files.
 See Elizabeth Alice Honig, Painting & the Market in Early Modern Antwerp
, New Haven, 1998, pp. 53–99.
 Görel Cavalli-Björkman, “A Fishmarket by Joachim Beuckelaer,” Konsthistorisk tidskrift
55, no. 3 (1986), pp. 115–21.
 Günter Irmscher,"Ministrae voluptatum: Stoicizing Ethics in the Market and Kitchen Scenes of Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer,” Simiolus
16 (1986), pp. 219–32.
 Ibid., p. 221.
 Eric de Bryun and Jan op de Beeck, De Zotte Schilders: Moraalridders van het penseel rond Bosch, Bruegel en Brouwer
, Ghent, 2003, pp. 106, 158–161.