'Still Life with a Squirrel' by Andreas Stech from the Collections of the National Museum in Gdansk
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The only extant independent still life with fruit by Andreas Stech (1635-1697) - 'Still Life with a Squirrel', originating from the historical collection of the Gdansk merchant Jacob Kabrun, is the highlight of the Painting Gallery at the National Museum in Gdansk. The foundation of the iconological interpretation of this canvas is a depiction of the temptations of life and the suggestion how to avoid them. In particular, the presence of permanent Christological symbols: grapes, bread, a jug and a cup of wine betray the Christian message of the painting. The motif of a basket, a frequent Baroque allegory of the autumn harvest season, could be interpreted as a symbol of the two forms of Eucharistic nourishment. The Gdansk painter borrowed, albeit indirectly, the whole motif of the plaited basket of grapes and the squirrel from a late work by Frans Snyders: 'Still Life with a Squirrel and a Wan-li Bowl' from 1650-1657, part of the collections of the Princes von Liechtenstein in Vaduz. A workshop repetition of a variant of the canvas from Vaduz is the 'Still Life with Fruit and a Squirrel' at the Prado, emulated in a painting which served Stech as a model for the Gdansk 'Still Life with a Squirrel', today in a private collection in Germany. The selection of the majority of the remaining motifs of the Stech still life was inspired by the refined solutions applied by the Dutch painters of that period. The 'Still Life with a Squirrel' by Stech, executed in 1657 as a 'meisterstück', testifies to the ambitions harbored by the young artist and an attempt at equaling Dutch and Flemish painters. The canvas is an example of creative and noble aemulatio. As a higher form of imitation it comprises specific rivalry with the patterns available to the artist and not a simple process of copying universally employed motifs. The author displayed his painterly erudition and created an anthology of still life conventions, at the same time building his own allegory, legible in Gdansk conditions. Despite the assorted workshop faults discerned in the 'Still Life with a Squirrel' by Andreas Stech the canvas remains an indubitably successful emulation.
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