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Pieter Claesz was a Belgian artist born circa 1597 near Antwerp, in the city of Berchem. He was a successful still-life painter of the Golden Age and became part of the Guild of St. Luke in his early twenties.
In 1620, the same period in which Claesz was accepted in the city Guild with other notable artists, he moved to Haarlem, in the Netherlands. It was during this year that Claesz had a son, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem, who began studying art with his father and ultimately became a prolific landscape painter.
Along with Willem Claeszoon Heda, Claesz was the most influential still-life artists of the Dutch Golden Age. They specialized in portraying dinner tables, or ontbijt, which literally translates to breakfast. Claesz beautifully depicts a dinner table with perfect use light and shadow combined with a balanced composition and a monochromatic color pallet - a break away from the earlier Mannerist way of painting. An example of the artist’s most famous still-life is Banquet Still Life with a Crab on a Silver Platter.
In Still Life with Musical Instruments, Claesz displays musical instruments next to a dining table and even a turtle. The artist is able to portray a vast amount of textures and reflexes while maintaining a monochromatic pallet. In Breakfast still life with Roemer and a Crab, Claesz broadens his pallet a bit by introducing red and brown tonalities in his representation of a crab, in contrast to the overall yellow, ochre and green tonalities of the canvas.
The artist often painted some artworks considered vanitas - a Latin term designated for still-life paintings that contain symbols of vanity and worldly pleasures, like wine, books, and musical instruments. The idea of vanitas as still-life paintings also ties in with memento mori, meaning “remember you must die” in Latin. The briefness and fragility of life are represented in objects like burnt candles and skulls, as seen in Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill, painted in 1628.
Along with his son, Nicolaes - who leaned towards mythological and biblical scenes, mostly of pastoral landscapes - Claesz also taught painting for other Dutch artists like Floris van Dyck, Christian Berentz, Jan Jansz Treck, and Floris van Schooten.
Pieter Claesz passed away in Haarlem, the Netherlands, in 1660, in his early sixties.