What is a Still Life?

Gilles Farina
Publié le 18 May 2023
What is a Still Life?

We all know what a still life is without really knowing how to define it. A painting with fruit? A painting that is no longer painted? Two questions that seem very simple at first glance, but which in fact conceal an entire section of art history. Today, Museum TV invites you to find out all about still lifes.

The living...

Still life is defined primarily as an artistic genre representing inanimate elements. Indeed, this is the first and broadest definition that can be given to still life. Moreover, it is important to know that the genre was for a long time little considered by the fine arts and artists often abandoned the practice of still life in favour of more noble genres such as portraiture.

Sunflowers (Van Gogh series)

A historical tool

Still lifes are also important historical documents for understanding food in different centuries. During the Renaissance, the genre developed enormously in Italy, and many paintings provide us with a precise record of 16th-century practices and objects.

 Jacopo de' Barbari

Still-Life with Partridge and Gauntlets, Jacopo de' Barbari

A metaphysical reflection

Still lifes are not only "passive" paintings. Indeed, the viewer is invited to reflect on his or her human condition. Many paintings remind us that we are mortal and that life is ephemeral. Thus, you will often find a great deal of symbolism in the still lifes.

Floris van Schooten Nature morte

Floris van Schooten, Still life

For example, Nature morte au crane by Cezanne is one of the best examples of the richness of still lifes. In fact, these human skulls often remind us that we are only passing through this world. The human being passes away and nature remains. In addition to this symbolism of the human condition, there is also a notion of fragility. Notice the many paintings with a glass next to the skull. This represents the fragility of our species. The only one to have moved away from nature...

still life Cezanne
Paul Cezanne Nature morte au crâne

You now know what's a still life !

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