The history of still life as a genre
In art, still life (from the French. Natur morte – “dead nature”) is usually called the image of inanimate objects, united in a single compositional group. Still life can have both independent meaning and be an integral part of the composition of the genre picture.
In a still life, a person’s attitude to the world is expressed. It reveals the understanding of beauty that is inherent in the artist as a person of his time.
The art of a thing has long been, long before becoming an independent field of artistic creation, was an integral part of any significant work. The role of a still life in a picture has never been exhausted by simple information, an accidental addition to the main content. Depending on the historical conditions and social demands, objects more or less participated in the creation of the image, shading this or that side of the plan. Before the still life took shape in an independent genre, things surrounding a person in everyday life, only to one extent or another, were included as an attribute in the paintings of antiquity. Sometimes such a detail acquired unexpectedly deep significance, got its own meaning.
As a certain type or genre of painting, a still life knows its blossoms and falls in the history of art.
The harsh, intense-ascetic art of Byzantium, creating immortal, monumental-generalized, exalted-heroic images, used images of individual objects with unusual expressiveness.
In ancient Russian icon painting, those few objects that the artist introduced into his strictly canonical works also played an important role. They brought spontaneity, vitality, sometimes seemed an open expression of feeling in a work devoted to an abstract mythological plot.
Still life played an even greater role in the paintings of artists of the XV – XVI centuries in the Renaissance. The painter, who first paid close attention to the world around him, sought to indicate a place, to determine the value of each thing that serves a person. Household goods acquired the nobility and proud significance of their owner, the one to whom they served. On large canvases, still life usually occupied a very modest place: a glass vessel with water, an elegant silver vase or delicate white lilies on thin stems often huddled in the corner of the picture. However, in the depiction of these things there was so much poetic love for nature, their meaning is so highly spiritualized that here you can already see all the features that determined the independent development of the whole genre in the future.
Objects, a material element received a new meaning in paintings in the XVII century – in the era of the developed still-life genre. In complex compositions with a literary plot, they took their place along with other heroes of the work. Analyzing the works of this time, you can see what an important role the still life began to play in the picture. Things began to appear in these works as the main characters, showing what the artist can achieve by devoting his skill to this art.
Objects made by skillful, hardworking, wise hands bear the imprint of thoughts, desires, human drives. They serve him, delight him, inspire a legitimate sense of pride. It is not for nothing that we learn about epochs that have long disappeared from the face of the earth from the shards of dishes, household utensils, and ritual objects that become scattered pages of human history for archaeologists.
Peering into the surrounding world, penetrating an inquisitive mind into its laws, unraveling the fascinating secrets of life, the artist more and more comprehensively reflects it in his art. He not only depicts the world around him, but also conveys his understanding, his attitude to reality.
The history of the formation and development of various genres of painting is living evidence of the tireless work of the human mind, which seeks to embrace the endless variety of activity and aesthetically comprehend it.
Still life is a relatively young genre. It received independent significance in Europe only in the 17th century. The history of the development of a still life is interesting and instructive.
Particularly fully and vividly, the still life blossomed in Flanders and the Netherlands. Its appearance is connected with those revolutionary historical events, as a result of which these countries, having gained independence, entered the path of bourgeois development at the beginning of the 17th century. For Europe at that time, this was an important and progressive phenomenon. Art opened up new horizons. Historical conditions, new social relations directed and determined creative requests, changes in the solution of the problems facing the painter. Without directly depicting historical events, the artists took a fresh look at the world, found new values in man. Life, routinely appeared before them with unknown significance and completeness. They were attracted by the peculiarities of national life, native nature, things that keep the imprint of the works and days of ordinary people.