PieterAertsen Butcher’sStall, 1551

TheRenaissance Art Movement ran from the 14thCentury to the 16thCentury. It has its origins in Italy and gradually spread across theexpansive European continent depicting the political, religious,economic and social environment prevalent at the time. The effects ofthis art movement are still witnessed in today’s visual art andliterature.

Theterm renaissance translates to mean a revival. The Renaissance periodwas a time when many artists, more so in Italy were of the view thatart had lost its progressively continued to lose its splendor sincethe collapse of ancient Greek and Roman empires1.Renaissance artists were in admiration of the works reminiscent ofthe Classical Age and sought to revive the grandeur once exhibitedthrough art during the Classical Age. This essay seeks to discussPieter Aertsen of the Renaissance period and more so criticallydiscuss his work titledButcher’s Stall, 1551as his contribution towards the Renaissance Art Movement.

Denunciationof the Middle Ages

TheMiddles Ages are a dark and gruesome past of western civilization,which neared its end as the 15thCentury ushered. During this time, religion played an integral rolein all aspects of the society, political, social, economic orotherwise2.Little care was accorded to life on earth as human life wasconsidered a transitional phase into the next world3.The Italians began to accord more thought and time in the need tofervor to the immediate world. They began to explore a new notionreferred to as humanism whereby common norms of absolute obedience toauthority, questioning faith and discipline were subjected todebate4.

PieterAertsen’s Butcher’s Stall, 1551.

PieterAertsen was a 16thCentury artist appreciated as a pioneer of still life and genrepainting portraits. A Dutch native, Aertsen’s parents lived inAmsterdam and it is in this city that he was born. He is recorded ashaving joined the painter’s guild in 1533 after training withanother renowned Dutch painter Alart Claessen in Antwerp5. He was commissioned by the Catholic Church to paint altarpieceswithin religious themes favored at the time.

The16thCentury brought about marked changes to the style in which art wasexpressed in the Renaissance period as mannerisms were integratedinto works of art. Aertsen was part of these new dimensions to therenaissance Art movement and his art explicit depicted the newdimension6.As Jenson provides, religious art tended to portray mysteries aboundin Christianity as being applied by leaders to subdue the generalpopulations to authorities, as was the case in the Middle Ages7.Through the stimulation of human senses and the composition of place,Aertsen questioned traditional religious ideologies.

Inthe portrait titled Butcher’sStall’ 1551,the foreground presents a gruesome buffet of severed animal heads,lungs, hooves, intestines, and sausages exhibiting a land full ofplenty8.To the right is a man fetching water from a well, further to theright are individuals in a relaxed mood, and before them is a hanginganimal carcass. Beyond the brightly colored but heart wrenchingbuffet is a window through which one can perceive people moving awayfrom the foreground towards a place unknown. Closer to the window isa woman on a donkey holding an infant while extending alms to a youngboy9.

Thispainting brings about a sense of disgust and awe to me as an audienceas it is indeed an extravagance of meat so rich in its diversity,from beef to pork to poultry to fish that it overwhelms theimagination. The cooking and serving utensils herein are brightlycolored exhibiting a wealthy butcher only awaiting people with thewealth to afford his produce to come on inside to savor anything theso wish. As such, the foreground ensures that one’s sense of sightindulges in the rich table of raw meat and a deep sense shock at thediversity of animal slaughter.

Tothe right of the paintings individuals in rich attire make merrywhile at the foreground people in their masses supposedly are fleeingthe animal massacre. It is indeed a riotous portrait as it pushes anindividual’s imagination to the limits of asking as to why there isso much conflict. Aertsen cleverly employs conflict to influence toquestion why the painting so vividly depicts to worlds, people makingmerry while the others flee10.

Aswas the case during the Renaissance period, the use of common humanmannerisms was incorporated in the paintings to depict the disgustthe people felt of the way religion was used to oppress the masses.Aertsen uses this painting to show that during the time, the Churchsacrificed many people from diverse backgrounds to fulfill the wishesand the needs of the few aristocratic people11.As such, the Church was the avenue used by the aristocratic societyto govern over the public to achieve the standard of living worthy ofKings. Religion had therefore been corrupted to subject the societyto the will of the nobles.

Thebackground underscores this fact by showing the proverbial Mary on anass heading on to Egypt to escape persecution by Herod who sought tohave all male babies killed to protect his lineage. As such, one caninterpret the butcher’s stall as being the church and the merrymakers being the leaders of the church. The servant fetching water, ahealthy man, serves the butcher and the merry makers with the loyaltyof a true believer. The fact that Mary and her boy child are ridingaway from the foreground to join the people turning away from thebutcher’s stall shows that the church does not adhere to the truemessage of the Word of God. Thus, the church selectively employsChristian doctrines to favor the rich and oppress the poor.

AsLandau provides, there is expressiveness as to the bitterness of lifeand more so infinite sadness12.As such, this is what the single file of men, women and children aswell as their livestock seems to be moving away from. It must be intheir minds that the unknown is possibly much better than what theyare leaving behind. The painting is a mockery of religious bigotry asstill life facets are artistically placed in the foreground while thetrue essence of the painting is subjected to the background to revealwhat lies beneath the misleading covers.


TheButcher’s Stall, 1551 is a secular work of art as the still lifepresentation in the foreground overwhelms the religious narrativerelegated to the background. One can also deduce that in thispainting, Aertsen sought to show that during the Renaissance artmovement, the religious narrative was subjected to the background ofthe society as humanism took hold and was presented in the new faceof social standing abundance and extravagance of human expressionism.


Chorpenning,Joseph F. “Another Look at Caravaggio and Religion,” Artibuset Historiae,Vol.

8,No. 16 (1987), pp. 149-158.

Cowart,Georgia. “Watteu’s ‘Pilgrimage to Cythera’ and the SubversiveUtopia of the Opera-

Ballet,”TheArt Bulletin, Vol.83,No. 3 (Sept., 2001): 461-478.

Jenson,Susan, H. “Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A BiographicalDictionary”.Accessed June 7, 2014.http://renaissance_and_reformation.enacademic.com/3/AERTSEN,_Pieter

Kleiner,Fred. Gardner`sArt through the Ages: The Western Perspective,|.Vol. 1. Cengage Learning, 2013.

Landau,S. Bradford. “Renaissance (1300s-1600s)”. TheNew Book of Knowledge.Accessed June 7, 2014.http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753904

1 Joseph Chorpenning F. “Another Look at Caravaggio and Religion,” Artibus et Historiae, Vol.

8, No. 16 (1987), 152.

2 Chorpenning, Joseph F. “Another Look at Caravaggio and Religion, 153

3 Georgia Cowart. “Watteu’s ‘Pilgrimage to Cythera’ and the Subversive Utopia of the Opera-

Ballet,” The Art Bulletin, Vol.83, No. 3 (Sept., 2001): 461.

4 Cowart, Georgia. “Watteu’s ‘Pilgrimage to Cythera’ and the Subversive Utopia of the Opera-

Ballet,” 476.

5 Susan Jenson H. “Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary”. Accessed June 7, 2014. http://renaissance_and_reformation.enacademic.com/3/AERTSEN,_Pieter

6 Jenson, Susan, H. “Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary”.

7 Ibid

8 Fred Kleiner. Gardner`s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective,|. Vol. 1. Cengage Learning, 2013. 548.

9 Kleiner, Fred. Gardner`s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective,|. Vol. 1. Cengage Learning, 2013. 548

10 Bradford Landau S. “Renaissance (1300s-1600s)”. The New Book of Knowledge. Accessed June 7, 2014. http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753904

11 Landau, S. Bradford. “Renaissance (1300s-1600s)”. The New Book of Knowledge. Accessed June 7, 2014. http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753904

12 Ibid