Still-Life with Two Calves’ Heads
Paudiß, Christopher (c. 1625-before 1666) | Painter
In his earliest still life, Paudiss shows an idiosyncratic arrangement of two freshly slaughtered calves’ heads, partially defleshed bones and a string of onions. Unlike the Dutch precedents featuring lavish market or kitchen scenes as warnings against gluttony and wastefulness, this painting focuses on the role of the calves as victims. Being equated with humans, they refer – along with the onion as a symbol of suffering and sorrow – to the transience and vanity of all material things.
In many respects, this still life is an unconventional painting – and not just due to its vertical format and economical composition. The calves’ heads are also an unusual topic since, in contrast to Dutch artists, German painters rarely took slaughtered animals as a theme. The painting style, though, is not unusual; nor is the use of light and the focus on the main subject while the surrounding space is left largely in shadow.
Here, Christopher Paudiß largely works with contrasts. He renders the many details in the surfaces of the heads, bones and onions with short brushstrokes and thicker impasto, and includes little highlights – for instance, on the calves’ wet noses and light-coloured hair, or on the skins of the onions. With thinner colour and a broad brushstroke, he only roughly indicates the elements in the background. In all the delicate shades of brown and white, he has only added a few dots of colour, such as the red of the fresh blood on the raw bones.
Until the mid-1960s, scholars were not sure who had painted this Still Life with Two Calves’ Heads. At that time, the painting was discovered in the storage facility in Moritzburg Castle near Dresden. When first examined, only individual letters of the artist’s signature were legible. After the work was cleaned, though, the entire name was revealed: Christoffer Paudiß, 1658. According to that date, this panel painting is the earliest still life by this artist. Little is known about the life of Christopher Paudiß. He was born in 1618, possibly in Lower Saxony though more likely in Hamburg. Like many other northern German artists of his day, he also went to the Netherlands for a time. He is thought to have been an assistant in Rembrandt’s workshop before he moved to Dresden.
In 1723, August the Strong acquired the painting for Moritzburg Castle, then recently redesigned as an impressive baroque hunting lodge and summer residence. Although the painting was listed in Moritzburg inventory, it never attracted any scholarly interest. In the wake of the King of Saxony from the dynastic House of Wettin abdicating after the First World War, the newly founded Free State of Saxony and the former Saxon royal house had a fierce dispute over the ownership of art works. Under the settlement finally reached in 1924, the House of Wettin retained Moritzburg Castle with all its contents. In 1945, the property belonging to the House of Wettin in the Soviet occupied zone was expropriated. This painting then passed to the Dresden collections. In 1999, together with around 18,000 art works, it was restituted to the former rulers of Saxony. However, the SKD – the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden – was then able to acquire a large proportion of the restituted works.
- Material & Technique
- Oil on panel
- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
- Inventory number
- Inv.-Nr. 99/66