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Still and living

THROUGH THE AGES C�zanne's Apples. The French adopted the still life without the moral message

THROUGH THE AGES C�zanne's Apples. The French adopted the still life without the moral message  

The history of still life pictures takes us all the way back to the ancient Egyptian tombs

A still life is defined as a picture of inanimate commonplace objects such as vessels, food, flowers, books and clothes grouped together. Still life has been popular forever from the ancient Egyptian and Greek times through the medieval times, the Renaissance, 17th Century Dutch vanitas, the impressionist, expressionist and cubist, to the pop art of Andy Warhol and the photo-realism of today.

Still life pictures adorn ancient Egyptian tombs. The belief was that the painted foodstuff would become real for the deceased in the afterlife. There were also still life pictures decorating the frescoes of ancient Rome and Pliny the Elder endorses Piraikos as the greatest of still life painters.

In Western art, the still life was closely related to religious symbolism. Every little detail such as a candle or a flower was representative of a larger truth and was referred to as nature morte (dead nature)

In the 17th Century, still life came to its own in the Dutch vanitas paintings. Derived from the Latin word for vanity, the vanitas painting referred to the transience of life. A heavily laden table would be clubbed with a broken mirror, or a flickering candle or a broken mirror to drive the message home.

The French adopted the still life without the moral message and developed the trompe l'oeil (trick the eye). In this type of painting, objects are shown in life-size against a flat background to give a three-dimensional effect.

While the still life was looked down in the artistic circles till the mid-19th Century, artists such as Claude Manet, Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul C�zanne and Pablo Picasso used the genre in increasingly creative ways.

In Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky words: "C�zanne made a living thing out of teacup, or rather in a teacup he realised the existence of something alive. He raised still life to such a point that it ceased to be inanimate. He painted these things as he painted human beings, because he was endowed with the gift of divining the inner life in everything."

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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