Willem Kalf
(Rotterdam, 1619-1693, Amsterdam)
Still Life with Nautilus Cup, ca. 1660
Oil on canvas, 66.5 x 56 cm

An Oriental carpet pushed aside with seeming carelessness lies on a marble slab. On it there are a silver bowl, a pocket watch with key on blue ribbon, a "nautilus goblet", the shell of a nautilus in a gorgeous gilt mounting, a Chinese porcelain bowl with blue decoration, some olives in it, a beaker of white wine, a fluted glass with dregs of red wine, an orange. Is not this still life a kind of allegory of the wealth of all the world which was being accumulated in the Netherlands? The still life painters, unlike the simpler first generation, faithfully reflected the growing prosperity of the country and the sophistication of its burghers. The objects here show that Holland was the great international market. But the charm of such still lifes does not consist only in the interplay of material substances (the delicacy of the Chinese bowl, for example, contrasted to the heavy texture of the carpet and the richly wrought goldsmith’s work); the principal attraction of the painting consists in the rhythm of the composition, in the fine balance of elements, in the play of opposites within a higher unity. The various things are coordinated about the goblet like a Baroque staircase; this is balanced by another line running from the foot of the goblet up into the orange foliage. Nothing in the painting disturbs its equilibrium.