Friday, October 16, 2015

Painting Flowers as Symbols - Clara Peeters 1594-1657

Clara Peeters (Flemish painter, 1594-c 1657)

Clara Peeters (1594-c 1657) was not painting portraits as were most women painters born in the 1400-1500s.  Peeters is the best-known female Flemish artist of this era and one of the few women artists working professionally in 17C Europe, despite restrictions on women's access to artistic training and membership in guilds. Peeters was among the earliest specialist painters of still lifes and flowers, working while this genre was still emerging. Fewer than ten paintings of flowers produced in the Netherlands can be dated before 1608, when she painted her first recorded work.
Clara Peeters (Flemish painter, 1594-c 1657)

She was baptized in Antwerp in 1594, & married there in 1639. Her earliest dated paintings, from 1607-1608, are small, detailed images representing food & drink. At the time that Clara Peeters was painting, religious imagery was forbidden in the Dutch Reformed Protestant Church.  Artistic symbols  were developed to make coded references to life, death, & religion, so her paintings conveyed a meaning to her patrons of much more than objects in a still life. Each painting would be a visual puzzle to be decoded by the viewer.  
Clara Peeters (Flemish painter, 1594-c 1657)

Some speculate that the skill with which this teenage artist executed her painting suggests that she may have been trained by a master painter. Although there is no documentary evidence of her education, some scholars theorize that Peeters may have been a student of Osias Beert, a still-life painter from Antwerp.  By 1612, the 18-year-old artist was producing large numbers of painstakingly rendered still lifes displaying symbols in groupings of metal goblets, gold coins, & exotic flowers.
Clara Peeters (Flemish painter, 1594-c 1657)
Clara Peeters (Flemish painter, 1594-c 1657)