OIL PAINTING: The Pantry
A pupil of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Frans Snyders was admitted as a free master to the Guild of St Luke in 1602. He then spent time in Italy before returning to settle permanently in Antwerp in 1609. At a time when orders were pouring in, painters made use of specialised colleagues for certain parts of the works. Artists like Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and Cornelis de Vos all called on Frans Snyders to produce the animal motifs in their paintings.
The scene o The Pantry is set in the kitchen of a vast house. A maidservant, said to be painted by Cornelis de Vos, is carrying a tray full of quails and crowned with a pheasant. Her head turned to the right, she is standing alongside a large rectangular table spilling over with victuals. The Pantry is organised on several levels around a white swan, whose body and outstretched wings occupy the centre of the scene. Next to it, a gutted roebuck is hanging by one paw from a hook. A lobster, a peacock and some birds are laid out on the table. A wicker basket spilling over with fruit and a copper basin with quarters of meat add to the impression of abundance. A rack at the top of the painting from which hang two salmon steaks, birds and two hares, strengthens the horizontal aspect of the composition. In the left foreground, a plate of oysters is placed on a bench, whilst, to the far right, a wicker basked is laden profusely with fruits and vegetables. A cat, preparing to steal fish from a serving dish, and a dog, avidly viewing the servant's plate, provide a lively contrast to the dead animals.
The Pantry by Snyders is similar to monumental paintings mixing people and still-lifes created by Aertsen, Beuckelaer and Lucas van Valckenborch. The work probably has a deeper meaning. It would well be that the poultry, the parrot, the dog, the cat and the roebuck embody the five senses, whilst the birds, the fish, the fruit and vegetables, the lobster and the game symbolise the four elements of air, water, earth and fire respectively. In the same order of things, the maidservant and the birds (the Dutch word "vogelen", literally "to bird", also refers to the sexual act) are perhaps an allusion to worldly temptations and to physical love.