Jacob van Hulsdonck

A still life of lemons and pomegranate

Jacob van Hulsdonck was born in Antwerp in 1582. His parents moved to Middelburg shortly thereafter, to escape the religious upheavals in the Southern Netherlands. Although it is not known who trained him there, it it well possible that he was influenced by another émigré Flemish still life painter, Ambrosius Bosschaert. In 1608 van Hulsdonck moved back to Antwerp, as is attested by his admission into the local guild of St Luke that same year. In 1609 he married Maria la Hoes; the couple had seven children, one of whom (Gillis) became a still life painter too, after receiving training from his father. Van Hulsdonck lived and worked in Antwerp all his life.

As was typical in early seventeenth-century Antwerp, van Hulsdonck was highly specialized, producing only still life paintings. Only about a hundred works by the artist are known, which attests to his thoughtful and meticulous painterly methods. His oeuvre includes flower still lifes, banquet style pieces and fruit bowls. As there is only one known dated work (Breakfast Piece with a Fish, Ham and Cherries, dated 1614, now in the Bowes Museum, UK) by the artist, it is not always easy to establish a chronology of his works. Stylistically, van Hulsdonck’s oeuvre shows affinity with that of the early still life painters Osias Beert and Hieronymus Francken – it has been suggested that he had worked in their circle – and, for his flower pieces, with the work of Jan Brueghel the Elder.

The present work is a magnificent example of van Hulsdonck’s mature period; it can be dated, based on stylistic grounds, to the 1620’s. The handling of the lemon and the pomegranate is very similar to that in a work by van Hulsdonck now in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, US); in both works, the grain of the wood of the table has been depicted in great detail. Although 17th-century still lifes are usually believed to convey a hidden ‘message’, often related to the vanitas motif of the transience of all things, in van Hulsdonck’s works this seems to have been largely absent. However, the presence of the fly in the present painting does lend the work an aspect of vanity, as flies were often seen as a symbol of the shortness of life.

Artist: Jacob van Hulsdonck (Antwerp 1582 - 1647)
Medium: oil on copper
Dimensions: 18,8 x 24,6 cm
Signed: ‘IVHVLSDONCK.FE’, lower right