Willem Claesz Heda - A Breakfast of Blackberry Pie

by Alexanda Tuschka


With the painting "A Breakfast with a Blackberry Paste" the Dutchman Willem Claesz Heda created in 1631 a very sensual still life . You can literally smell the opened paste, taste the stale wine and feel transported back to last night, which left the table chaotic.

What may have happened? Who knocked over the silver goblet, and who broke the glass? As much as the recipient seeks the story behind the work, he will not find clues to decipher the exact subject of the picture. The idea of the still life, i.e. the depiction of inanimate or motionless things, lies more in the symbolic value of the individual pictorial objects.

The still life developed in the 16th century in the Netherlands primarily under religious as well as representative aspects and served wealthy citizens as ornamental decoration. In addition to flower and hunting paintings, breakfast motifs developed as a popular subcategory.


Heda's painting is called a "monochrome banquet," a special form of breakfast still life. This means that the color spectrum is mainly in various shades of olive-gray, but through a virtuoso play of light and shadow, pictorial objects are made to sparkle and shine. In this way, the important elements of the work come into their own. Heda has not chosen the objects at random, but has carefully considered their iconographic significance.


Thus, the emptied goblet stands for an emptied, i.e. soon ending life, the pocket watch on the right edge of the picture symbolizes the fleetingness of time. The wine in the goblet can be associated on the one hand with gluttony, on the other hand with purity and truth. The opened pie with the silver spoon denotes wastefulness and intemperance. Nuts can also be seen, a rare treasure at that time. The broken glass in the left half of the picture is to be understood as a vanitas symbol. These were used very frequently and critically in still life to admonish the intemperance and extravagance of the upper middle classes.


Willem Claesz Heda - A Breakfast of Blackberry Pie

Oil on canvas, 1631, 54 x 82 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden