This remarkable Dutch still-life painting, somber yet sumptuous, represents a seventeenth-century type known as a “banquet piece.” The various surfaces and textures of luxury tablewares made of pewter, gold, silver, and glass, as well as the foodstuffs and white linen tablecloth, are meticulously rendered. At the same time, symbolically charged elements such as the empty glass, burned-down candle, and lute at the far left hint at deeper meanings. The painting has been interpreted both as a vanitas image, that is, one that refers to the rapid passage of life and the emptiness of worldly possessions and pleasures, and as a representation of the five senses. However, it is equally likely that Dutch concerns about overindulgence and ostentatious display also are addressed in the painting.
Jan Jansz. den Uyl was well known and successful during his lifetime—the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens owned three of his pictures—but was largely forgotten after his death until the middle of this century. In most of his known works, Den Uyl made a visual pun on his name: an owl (in Dutch uyl) is perched upon the gold container in the center of the composition.