Variations on a theme, with grapes

(Not much about language, but mostly about art and sensuality.)

A recent postcard from Chris Ambidge: Still Life (ca. 1860) by Severin Roesen:


A still life with a wonderfully sensuous, even sexual, tone, especially conveyed by the grapes. It turns out that Roesen churned out enormous numbers of these still lifes, all pretty much variations on a single theme.

On the artist, from Wikipedia:

Severin Roesen ([born]1816 in Boppard [Rheinland-Palatinate, Germany] – after 1872) is a painter known for his abundant fruit and flower still lifes and is today recognized as one of the major American still-life painters of the mid-nineteenth century.

He emigrated to the U.S. in 1848, finally settling in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where there was a significant German-American community. With a reference to his painting Fruit With Wine Glass


Wikipedia continues:

While Roesen’s paintings reveal a meticulous attention to detail in their precise arrangements and close brushwork, his subject matter, even down to specific motifs, did not change throughout his career. Sometimes he made near copies of paintings, but usually he merely rearranged and reassembled stock elements.

Numerous items in Fruit and Wine Glass, for example, also appear in other paintings. The footed dessert plate full of strawberries is a common motif. The pilsner glass, sometimes accompanied by an open bottle of champagne, is interchangeable with a wine goblet filled with lemonade used elsewhere. The glass is nearly always placed at the lower left edge of the painting; a halved lemon often appears nearby. Branches full of grapes arranged from lower left to upper right provide the composition with a graceful S-curve and subtly lead the viewer’s eye over the entire display. Here the composition is balanced by light and dark grapes at either side and filled in by scattered raspberries, cherries, peaches, apples, pears, and apricots. Many of these compositional elements, if not the items depicted, were derived from seventeenth-century Dutch still life paintings by such artists as Jan van Huysem.

The sensuous potential of still lifes came up on this blog back in 2011, in a posting on Caravaggio, where I commented on

his appreciation of male personas and bodies; there’s a fair literature on homoeroticism in Caravaggio’s paintings, and this strikes me as right on the mark.

… In any case, [the Cupid painting Amor Vincit Omnia] strikes lots of people as homoerotic, but not in a sledgehammer way. It’s all subtextual, as we say in the academy.

and went on to two fruit-filled paintings:

So it is with several other Caravaggios, in particular his Boy With a Basket of Fruit (c. 1593) and his Bacchino Malato (a.k.a. Young Sick Bacchus… )

… In BoyBasket, Caravaggio’s attention seems equally on the boy and on the voluptuous basket of fruit (maybe even more on the fruit), a complexity that makes the painting especially rich.

In both of these, grapes figure as a key element; they contribute a sensuous or voluptuous quality, if not actually an erotic one.

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