There’s a fabulously camp ad for POM Wonderful on the TV at the moment… it shows a bronzed and buxom warrior, skin glistening slickly in the sun, striding forth, studded belt slung on hip. As he marches, a booming voice comes sailing in, stating that in ancient Persian mythology, warriors would gorge on the flesh of pomegranates pre-battle, to give themselves invincibility in the fight and to galvanize their bodies with a carapace of protective toughness.
It’s an impressive claim, and luckily accuracy can be lost to the ages that have slipped by between then and now. Perhaps POM decided on ancient scientific research for their latest campaign given some recent run-ins with the Federal Trade Commission about false health claims in some of their ads. Apparently, POM cannot substantiate that its pomegranate juices and products prevent prostate cancer, cardiac disease, and erectile dysfunction.
Be that as it may, the pleasant and I’m sure productive properties of the pomegranate are not to be disputed, and this is just the time they’s be popping up in shops. And on Art 2010 too, in this beauteous Still Life with Fruit (1675). Just looking at this picture gets me in the merry mood for the season: dusted grapes on a twisting vine, hazelnuts fresh from their curling cups and a frosted glass full of something crisp and bubbly. And of course that plumpteous pomegranate sat proud and central, its skin split to reveal rivulets of blood-red seeds within.
Jacob van Walscapelle (1644 – 1727) is the man behind this mini-masterpiece and he’s a little-known, and yet obviously gifted still-life painter in the second half of the 17th century. Born in Dordrecht in 1644, he established himself in Amsterdam in 1673 and remained there until the end of his life.
I’m sure I could convince you all that this work was of considerable dimensions, given the sense of grandeur that pulses from the picture. But in fact it’s modest at most, measuring a mere 40 by 35 centimeters unframed which means Walscapelle registers the sense of gravitas in other ways. Just a few objects assembled on a stone ledge are flooded with the most sublime light, which allows the artist to tread across all the tiny details of each thing he’s picked to paint. It’s a really sensual experience: you’re wondering what the fruit feels and tastes like and imagining the touch of the glass and nut husks.
Walscapelle shows us how much he thrills in the rich visual beauty of the natural world and underpins all the variety with a pleasant compositional restraint. So that what we end up with is simplicity sat alongside sheer lushness and luxury.