What’s for Breakfast?

I certainly hope you’ve already eaten because if not, you might find yourself getting a bit hungry. I finished my breakfast a short time ago, and it was delicious.

Blauwe Bessen
Yoghurt ontbijt met blauwe bes en kokossnippers

In my on-going quest to discover all things Dutch, I was recently browsing for recipes. I came across this one which was simple enough that even with my limited ability with the Dutch language, I was able to read and follow the recipe. My, but it was so good this morning!

My food photography isn’t any better than my art photography, but it’s Greek yoghurt topped with fresh blueberries, with coconut flakes and chopped walnuts. If anyone wants to check out the recipe, you’ll find it here — complete with a lovely photograph.

Now, to be truthful, it’s classed as a “western” dish, so I won’t say it’s really a Dutch breakfast, but the recipe was in Dutch, I read it, I fixed it, and I ate it, by golly! And by golly, again, yes, it was delicious.

But, enough of food. This is still an art blog.

Surprisingly, though, food and art quite often seem to go together. The November issue of Artist magazine focused on food, and as I’ve been reading more about still life paintings and Dutch artists, what did I find? Ontbijtjes. 

All right, a very quick Dutch lesson here. Ontbijt means breakfast, and the practice of adding the little –je- suffix makes it a diminuitive word, so our ontbijtjes are “little breakfast” pieces of art. These were very popular art forms in the early part of the 17th century.

The genre is said to have begun with — not surprisingly — a female artist. Clara Peeters painted many “food paintings” with considerable skill. It seems from the high quality of her work that she must have trained with a master, but we don’t really have too much information about her and her life.

But fortunately we do have paintings to view. Here is her “Still Life with Cheeses, Artichokes, and Cherries”.

Clara Peeters

While the fare may be simple, the narrative behind this story is filled with meaning. Consider it, first, as a representation of the Dutch country itself. Butter and cheeses are strong symbols of the land and its agricultural resources.

This painting, however, reflects more than national pride. It reflects, as well, the humility of the people themselves. We see a hard biscuit — a symbol of daily bread, thus daily life.  Delicious cherries — kersen — show us the pleasures of life but with the pit and stem in the foreground, we’re quickly reminded of how fleeting joy — and life itself — can be.

The details of the painting are exquisite and highly realistic. Every cut and scrape of the knife is shown in the butter and cheese. The artichoke is richly detailed.

Other painters were more lavish and extravagant in their depictions of foods. Consider this stunning still life from Willem Claesz Heda, showing a festive banquet scene:

Banquet Piece with Mince Pie

Even with what little I know, I can quickly recognize and identify the meaning behind many of the symbols here. The burned-down candlestick, the overturned stand, the half-peeled lemon… these all are ways of expressing those same feelings about the brevity of life and the uncertainties of the future.

From Invaluable, a premier art auction and gallery site, I learned more about the symbolism of these paintings.

The representations of delicious and familiar foods like oysters, ham, fish, bread, and fruit arranged on wooden tabletops, presented as delicacies to both admire and avoid with a religious view to eschew gluttony. Though the still life of this era and region often contained a veiled moral directive, the sensual and luxurious textures found in Dutch painting left little to imagination or appetite.

So perhaps now you’re getting hungry. Me, too, although I’m not sure I’ll ever really look at my meals again in quite the same way. And I’ll definitely never look at a still life painting again without eagerly searching out its story.


  1. Oh, this made me remember an AARP video/article I once saw with a man who, after he retired, started painting his breakfasts. I can’t remember if it was because he wanted to learn how to paint, or if it was because he never had time to paint before retiring. But they were simple little watercolor breakfasts in a small sketchbook. After awhile, someone saw him doing it and noted that they would like to do something like that (or some similar connection; it’s been years since I saw this story, so it’s vague in my memory). That comment or request prompted him to set up a blog and website with art tutorials. And then he started teaching watercolors in his community. Needless to say, the story impacted me enough that I will never look at breakfast portraits the same way again. And one artist I admire a lot, Ohn Mar Win, decided after a life-shift that she was going to improve at painting food, and now that is almost her entire business. And she became a professional with watercolor food design/illustration only about 5 years of self-taught determination. So, food is something with universal appeal that can open many new doors when being used as subjects for art studies. 🙂 I might have to make that my next challenge, too, because I have honestly never given food a decent study when it comes to art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. More and more I find artists who are making food a delicious subject for painting. 🙂 I will look up Ohn Mar Win and see what I can find. It’s always fun to hear stories about people who casually start doing something they love, and soon it turns into a life-changing passion. Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One funny thing about the banquet painting is that two plates look like they could fall off the table. The lemon peel is falling off and the table cloth looks like it started falling off but was bunched back up and might fall. I guess that’s symbolic but I’m not sure of what. Do you think it means we die? So we might as well eat what we like?


    1. LOL I think that’s a very good interpretation. 🙂 As for falling plates, I’ve sure had problems with that myself. Every time I try to arrange a still life, I just can’t get those pesky plates to stay put against the wall. Yes, I’ve been making a few little attempts at cups and saucers… nothing worth showing yet, but I’m certainly having fun with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A stimulating idea to paint, draw or at least sketch our breakfast! The Clara Peeters painting let me smile, during our last holiday trip my wife and me bought several kind of cheese (small amount each only due to health reasons) and they could be subject for some kind of art exercise…LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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