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Art Glossary: Still Life Painting

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Still Life with an Apple and Bottle

Still Life with Apple and Wine Bottle. Watercolor. 11x8".

Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Definition:

A still life is a painting featuring an arrangement of inanimate, everyday objects, whether natural objects (flowers, food, wine, etc.) or manufactured items (books, bottles, crockery, etc.). The Tate Museum Glossary puts it very succinctly, defining the subject of a a still life as "anything that does not move or is dead".

Traditionally, some of the objects in a still life were likely to have selected for their symbolic meaning, but this symbolism eludes most modern-day visitors. Cut flowers or a piece of decaying fruit, for instance, symbolism mortality. But a still life painting doesn't have to have symbolism. Cezanne is perhaps the most famous painter of apples simply for the colors, shapes, and perspective possibilities.

Painted in 1596, Caravaggio's still life of basket of fruit is recognized as the first major work of Western still life, according to the documentary Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting, broadcast BBC Four, 8:30PM Sun, 5 Jan 2014.

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