Most visitors to the Mead pause before this vividly colored, rhythmically composed, monumental still-life painting (notably larger than the artist’s typical three-and-a-half-by-five-foot size). Children are often the first to observe the low-positioned detail of the blood dripping from the deer’s mouth; adults sometimes comment on the enormous size of the apples. The contrasting colors and pyramidal, pushed-forward composition trace a curving, crossing circuit that demands active looking. The experience of viewing the Larder couldn’t be more different from that of becoming absorbed in Monet’s tranquil Morning on the Seine.
Nearly four centuries after the painting’s creation, its individual elements—piles of dead game, a basket of fruit, a cooked lobster, an artichoke, and a bundle of asparagus—remain familiar. Yet present-day viewers likely perceive them differently than Snyders’s contemporaries did. Whereas we might assign importance to the human figure and respond with sympathy, repulsion, or morbid curiosity to the dead creatures, seventeenth-century viewers more likely regarded the servant as little more than staffage, indicating the household’s prosperity and good management, while the vegetal and animal foodstuffs constituted the main subject: the products of a divine creation intended to benefit humanity and entrusted to its prudent stewardship.
As Susan Koslow has demonstrated, early viewers would likely have associated Snyders’s larder subjects—a type of still-life painting the artist first developed in the peacetime optimism of the Netherland’s Twelve Years’ Truce (1609–21)—with contemporaneous country-house poems celebrating the bounty of seigneurial estates. A status symbol for the nobility, “the unbought meal” also appealed to humanistically educated burghers versed in literary conventions celebrating bucolic life.