They look real – the crumbling cheeses, the apples, the glass of wine, the trailing apple peel, the dully-gleaming pewter plate. Floris van Dijck shows us that he was a past master at rendering different materials. In the seventeenth century Schrevelius put it like this: ‘Here you have Floris van Dijck, who could lure and catch the eager women, indeed the very birds with his artistic brush’.
Various meanings have been ascribed to this still life in the past. It is certainly no coincidence that the various items of food in the painting represent the four flavours: the apples are sour, the nuts bitter, the cheeses salt and the grapes sweet. The two stacked cheeses also call to mind an old Dutch saying, ‘put butter with cheese and the devil you’ll please’. Two items of dairy products on top of one another, usually butter and cheese, were seen as extravagance. This still life can thus be interpreted as an admonition to sobriety – something that would have held particular appeal for the Calvinist Dutch of the time.
It is no longer possible to discover whether the painter actually intended to embody this message iin the painting. It is equally likely that he simply painted a customary combination of foodstuffs. And as far as the large cheeses, so prominently displayed, are concerned – cheese was an important Dutch export even in the seventeenth century.