Rijksmuseum Twenthe - Het kunstmuseum van Enschede


A modest breakfast with bread, cheese, fish and beer. This small painting (circa 1615) tells us something about eating habits in the seventeenth century. The herring on the red dish has been sliced and the tastiest pieces – in the middle – lie enticingly on the dish, ready to be pricked with a knife.

A demonstration of prosperity or an exhortation to practise moderation?

This painting by Jacob van Hulsdonck (1582-1647) was made around 1615. Different meanings were attributed to the products depicted in the painting. Food such as herring, bread, vinegar and beer were pillars of the Dutch economy in the Golden Age. And the dish of Chinese porcelain alludes to the lively trade of the Hollanders in Eastern pottery. On the one hand, the painting could therefore symbolise prosperity. On the other hand, the meal, which consists of pig’s foot and beer instead of wine, is relatively simple fare. In this respect, the still life could actually be seen as an exhortation to practise moderation.

Still life

The term still life was hardly used in the first half of the seventeenth century. Depictions and representations of life were labelled according to what could be seen on the canvas. A floral piece, fish or, as in this painting, a breakfast. Compared to the extravagant showpiece still lifes by painters such as Willem Claesz. Heda and Willem Kalf, this image is relatively sober. The Antwerp painter Jacob van Hulsdonck made at the beginning of his career a number of this kind of modest and intimate table pieces.