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Abraham Mignon
Still Life with Fruits, Foliage and Insects, n.d.
oil on canvas

Still lifes, paintings of objects, often carried symbolic meanings for their original Dutch viewers. Here, the crowded display of fruit and insects testifies to the bounty of nature. The artist's virtuoso technique also reveals his desire to vie with the natural world and briefly halt time's passage by fixing these objects in paint. The sheer variety of natural organisms still fascinates. Snails, ants, beetles, and maybugs crawl over and around the peaches, grapes, plums, and grain. But the fruit has begun to rot, and the once-mighty oak tree shows signs of blight. The stone in the foreground has fallen from a once-perfect building, and the arch in the right background crumbles. Butterflies and caterpillars, traditional symbols of transcience, also allude to the impermanence of earthly things. For the 17th-century viewer, all these details clearly communicated the fragility of life.