Antwerp 1520/ 1540 - Antwerp
oil on panel
149 x 215 cm
Inventory number 5045
Three vendors are displaying their merchandise in wicker baskets and earthenware vessels. The offerings include cabbages, endives, artichokes and blackberries, as well as gherkins, hazelnuts and walnuts. Market scenes with copious amounts of food were particularly popular in the mid-16th century. It was a genre created by Amsterdam-born artist Pieter Aertsen. His nephew and virtuoso pupil Joachim Beuckelaer, who painted this Vegetable Market, would continue the tradition and help perpetuate it into the 17th century. The new genre fitted into the zeitgeist of the Renaissance and the rise of Humanism. Like kitchen scenes and still-lifes, such market scenes bore witness to a renewed interest in nature and snapshots of daily life. Yet the work is not entirely realistic. The assortment of fruits and vegetables on display could never have been harvested and sold together. So apparently there is more to the painting than meets the eye. But what precisely?
The opulence displayed in the scene could be interpreted as a deliberate demonstration of wealth or as an admonition against immoral behaviour. Because of their taste and shape, many of the fruits and vegetables on display are common metaphors for love, eroticism and sexuality. Hence, they lift the narrative to a higher plane: the slightly older woman on the right is apparently coupling the young female vendor with the fowler on the left. The latter figure's occupation gives away his true nature: he is a hunter of birds, or, if you will, women.