Jacob van Hulsdonck – Breakfast–piece


Jacob van Hulsdonck (1582 – 1647)

Date: 1614

Place: Flemish School

Materials and Techniques: Oil on panel

Dimensions: 65.4 x 106.8 cm

Museum Number: The Bowes Museum, B.M.99


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Exotic food on a blue and white plate

This oil on wood painting is an early example of Dutch non–religious painting known as a 'Breakfast Piece'. A rich merchant would have wanted to display his wealth and high social status by hanging this large painting in his house.


Some still lifes are full of symbols indicating the shortness of our life in this world (known as Vanitas pictures) but 'Breakfast Pieces' have no hidden meanings. The most important pieces shown in the picture are the three blue and white plates; these were exotic and highly desirable objects recently imported from China and only affordable by the privileged classes.


The table is tilted towards the viewer in order to display all of the objects on it. All of the plates and containers are placed to lead the eye around the whole composition.

The shimmering fish on an earthenware dish

Three knives (there were no forks until the mid 17th century) are angled to act as links in the oval circuit of plates around the central platter of ham, which is at the hub of the arrangement. The rims of the glasses and jug hover like satellites adding to the illusion of space. The textures of the food range from glossy cherries, crusty bread and a shimmering fish on an earthenware dish. The sheen of pewter, the transparency of the wine glass and the subtle use of shadows demonstrate the painter's expertise.


Oil painting had been practised since the 12th Century and Dutch artists had refined the technique by the 15th Century so that their skill in painting objects realistically was highly developed, earning them an unrivalled reputation throughout Europe.