Title:The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded ThemArtist:Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin Date:1766Creation Place:Europe, FranceCredit Line:The William Hood Dunwoody FundAccession Number:52.15
This picture may appear to reproduce the casual clutter of an 18th-century tabletop. Not so. Chardin carefully selected objects to convey specific meanings.
A palette with brushes, placed atop a paint box, symbolizes the art of painting. Building plans, spread beneath drafting and surveying tools, represent architecture. An ornate bronze pitcher alludes to goldsmithing, and the red portfolio symbolizes drawing. The plaster model of J. B. Pigalle's Mercury, an actual work by a friend of Chardin's, stands for sculpture.
The cross on a ribbon is the Order of Saint Michael, the highest honor an artist could then receive. Pigalle was the first sculptor to win it. So this painting sends multiple messages: it presents emblems of the arts and of artists' glory and honors a specific artist, Pigalle.
A still life (or painting of objects), which is composed from scratch by its creator, can be used to convey complex meanings.