Maerten Boelema, Still-Life with a Bearded Man Crock and a Nautilus Shell Cup, oil on wood, 73 x 96 cm., 1642-1644, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).
With a muted colour palette, in this still-life Boelema piles objects on top of one another. On a table with a half-drawn tablecloth, objects lie in disarray. The number of objects portrayed is limited, the colour palette muted: black, white, grey and brown in every shade define the atmosphere. A round, voluminous object in the form of a bearded man’s crock placed in a diagonal beam of light is chosen to form the centre of a composition which seeks to perform a dangerous balancing act, its excess weight having to be neutralised over the rest of the painting. A second eye-catching item, a precious nautilus beaker, is placed on the one visible corner of the table, reflecting the white of the table cloth and standing out starkly against the dark background of the upper right-hand corner. The oval and circular shapes of the plates with simple foodstuffs echo the shapes of the main objects. A fluted glass, flanked to the right by a step glass, provides the top of a triangle in the composition. The salt cellar and an overturned berkemeyer wineglass fill the lower left corner of the tableau. A second connecting line runs between three objects: a knife with a blocked handle, to the left on a plate, refers to its dark black knife-case, the down-hanging top of which counterbalances the upward movement of the fluted glass. Only an opened walnut and hazelnut suggest that the laid table has already been touched. The nuts strewn between the other objects produce a concentration of smaller ovals that attract the viewer’s eyes as to the centre of a whirlpool: the nuts themselves, the opening of the crock, its cover, the surface of the cut-open fruit, the wire foot and the thorn knobs on the wineglass, the ball-feet of the salt cellar. The artist sparingly distributes a few yellow colour accents over the picture surface in the lemons and the bread roll. A blue-green touch is visible solely in the mother-of pearl sheen of the nautilus shell cup: the rarer something is, the greater its value.