Skip to main content

Still Life with Mushrooms, Lizard and Insects

Otto Marseus van Schrieck

(1619 - 1678) | 811.48

Date : 17th century | Medium : Oil on canvas

Otto Marseus van Schrieck invented a particular genre half-way between still life and landscape painting. In his pictures, the Dutch artist depicted views of undergrowth at ground level, inhabited by curious, menacing plants and animals – mushrooms, thistles, snakes, frogs, caterpillars – and butterflies.

In the Rouen painting, the setting for this fantastical world is already an evocation of evil: a dark thicket strewn with mushrooms and lichens, with no sign of flowers or greenery. Symbols of evil are legion, drawn from the Bible and particularly the Book of Ecclesiastes: the lizard (death) attacks the butterfly (the soul), while a fly (putrefaction) lords it in the centre of the painting.

In the 17th century, people were convinced that there was a link between the state of nature and the state of mankind. Particularly prevalent was the theme of ‘vanitas’, which drew upon both the harsh reality of nature and the religious imagination to reveal to the viewer the transience of worldly things. Here, Otto Marseus van Schrieck seems to seek the world of human temptation in the world of the undergrowth, where sin, evil and death exist side by side with the innocence of the human soul.

Otto Marseus van Schrieck was highly successful in Europe and had many followers, including Mathias Withoos and Rachel Ruysch in Holland, Paolo Porpora in Italy and Johann Byss in Germany.