Still life with fruit and a crystal vase
Willem van Aelst (Delft 1626-27 – Amsterdam post 1683)
Signed and dated on the edge of the tablecloth "W.V. Aelst 1652"
The elegant composition of fruit and tableware was made by van Aelst as a pendant to his work Vase of flowers with watch near which it is still exhibited. Both works were commissioned to the Dutch painter by Prince and Cardinal Giovan Carlo de' Medici, his most important patron during his stay in Florence. The high esteem in which the prince held this artist and the genre of still life painting is demonstrated by the location of the paintings in his Florentine residence, the Casino degli Orti Oricellari in Via della Scala; this painting was to be found, together with its pendant and a hunting subject, in the cardinal's private room, the ceiling of which still bears Pietro da Cortona's fresco l’Allegoria della Quiete; in addition to van Aelst's paintings, other masterpieces such as Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch and Cardinal Bibbiena, Correggio's Madonna of the Basket, now in the National Gallery in London, and two small copper octagons by Mario de' Fiori, unfortunately lost, were also in this room.
This still life shows the painter's desire to go beyond the sumptuousness of many similar Dutch Baroque compositions, in favour of a depiction that induces a slow and careful contemplation of all the elements. A table covered with two tablecloths in contrasting colours, one white and one in electric blue velvet, hosts an open pumpkin, some plums, a knife, a gilded bronze stand in the shape of a shell surmounted by a nude figurine and a silver tray with a metallic glow that dialogues with the reflections and transparencies of the tall crystal vase.