Assignment 2: Studio Practice; Task 1: Still Life – research

Assignment 2: Studio Practice; Task 1: Still Life – research

For this task we should build and photograph a still life set-up that is inspired by a classical painting. In our hand-outs we received following instructions:

  1. Research classic still life paintings (you can use a painting where the still life is an important part) in books, magazines and websites,
  2. Choose one painting that you would like to interpret in the studio,
  3. Build a still life set-up, consider a background that will match the subject,
  4. Use studio lighting, flash accessories and gels to illuminate the subject in a creative manner,
  5. Use flash meter in a confident manner to establish required lighting scheme,
  6. Record well exposed images,
  7. Evaluate your work.

One of the still life that first caught my eye was “Water” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1566)


Arcimboldo is known as a 16th-century Mannerist, Mannerism adopted some artistic elements from the High Renaissance and influenced other elements in the Baroque period. A Mannerism tended to show close relationships between human and nature, it also favoured instability and unbalanced compositions, intellectual sophistication and artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities, in opposition to earlier Renaissance painting. Although he painted conventional religious work, it had fallen into oblivion, and he is famous for portraits of humans made of plants, sea creatures or roots. His works also inspired Surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, and is used by psychologists and neuroscientists to test the brain for recognition of global and local images and objects. His works can be found in Vienna, Paris and Sweden.


Another still life piece that caught my eye was “Still Life of Flowers in a Basket” by Spanish Baroque painter Juan de Arellano (c.1614–76).

9dd5c232acb94779819ebccfdef3fc9d.jpgBaroque was initially used to describe something artificially extravagant and complex, as was art and architecture of the 17-th century. Part of the reason was ideological and religious division. On one side fierce and authoritarian Catholic Church and “divine” monarchs used wonders of art to overwhelm and impress subjects. On the other side Protestant reform with belief in personal and national self-determination disapproved of all worldly show, destroying religious art and dispersing royal and noble collections. Merchants of newly created republic of Holland growing in wealth wanted landscapes, seascapes and still life to hang on the walls of their townhouses, which they could buy and sell like other commercial goods.

Which brings us back to Juan de Arellano who was heavily influenced by Flemish and Italian painters, and eminent flower painter. Although not my favourite subject, I am drawn to the detailed, skilfully executed, intricate work. I like colour balance between red, yellow and blue, punctuated by white petals. I like the way light interacts with the composition, which is on one level simple – just a basket of flowers sitting on a plinth – and at he same time extremely complicated with all the subtleties of realistic depiction. Also I like his motives (according to Wikipedia), de Arellano decided to focus exclusively on floral paintings because it offered more pay while requiring less work 😉


The third one that I want to discuss here and the one that I had chosen as an inspiration for my photography task is “Still Life” c. 1732 by Jean Baptiste Chardin (1699–1779).


By contrast to religious confrontation and warfare of 17th century, the mid 18th century was the Age of Reason. Enlightenment – a belief that human reason would resolve political and religious problems and create harmonious world in which superstition, tyranny and slavery would be eliminated was central. Intellectual and emotional duality was not seen as competing ideologies, but as a part and parcel of human fulfilment. Thus art of the period makes reference to the differences between reason and emotion, sense and sensibility, indulgence and sobriety, sensuality and self-denial.

Chardin was an artist who exemplified through his work the qualities of the Age of Reason. He produced small still lifes that demonstrated harmony of order, toned down colours and simplicity. His style is modest, and subjects were common household objects, yet painted in a way that surfaces and textures are very believable. He was greatly influenced by the realism and subject matter of 17-th century Low Country masters, and had less in common with Rococo that dominated France at that time.

What made me choose this one to interpret in photography is precisely that – simplicity of composition, muted earthy colours and use of everyday objects, that can be substituted for contemporary equivalents and still make sense. I love the little whimsical strand of lonely spring onion that curves up at the edge of a table and leads the eye into the composition. It is refreshing in a way that it is just a still live – nothing more and nothing less, no semiotics or hidden meaning (I hope!).


Art a Visual History, Robert Cumming, 2015 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Wikipedia (links in the article)

Other Still Life painting inspirations on my Pinterest board

For a great introduction to semiotics look here 

Featured image link


3 thoughts on “Assignment 2: Studio Practice; Task 1: Still Life – research

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