UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Material conversions: naturalism, discernment, and seventeenth-century Spanish still-life painting Chéhab, Krystel


This thesis argues for the ways in which the new genre of still-life painting became a forum for experimentation for artists in seventeenth-century Spain. In a context wherein the production of visual imagery was overwhelmingly religious, and profane pictorial genres were generally limited to only a few, still life became bound up with growing interests in naturalism, or efforts to faithfully recreate the material world on canvas, and novel approaches to painting. Focusing on the period between 1600 and 1675, the thesis first traces the early conventions of still life cultivated by artists in the city of Toledo and in the court capital of Madrid. It then shifts the focus to Seville and to the intriguing development of what I refer to as mixed images – paintings that repurpose still life’s conventions with sacred subject matter. The contribution of this thesis lies in examining divergent types of mixed images, including paintings of sacrificial sheep and lambs and severed heads of saints, in relation to the novel genre of still life. Still-life painting emerged as an independent genre in the Spanish context around 1600, which was prompted by a number of interrelated factors including Spain’s robust political ties to other artistic centers in Europe and the surge in activity in picture collecting among upper and middling classes. Although still life was a pan-European phenomenon, the manner in which it was brought together with religious imagery in the form of mixed images, I argue, responds to evolving ideas about painting, including the depiction of violence, in the Spanish context. Painted for private patrons, mixed images by artists such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Bartolomé Murillo, and Sebastián Llanos y Valdés crucially foreground issues involving the portrayal of sacred subject matter at a moment when religious imagery was increasingly juxtaposed with other types of pictures in the space of the private collection. Ultimately, by drawing attention to informal links between artistic practice and still life, this thesis proposes that still life in seventeenth-century Spain functioned as a locus for thinking about naturalistic painting, which encouraged the subsequent deployment of the genre’s conventions to sacred ends.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada