Kitchen Scene with Christ at Emmaus by Joachim Beuckelaer

Joachim Beuckelaer

Kitchen Scene with Christ at Emmaus, c.1560–65, Oil on panel, 109.5 x 169 cm, The Mauritshuis, The Hague, inv. 965, Courtesy of Mauritshuis, The Hague

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Abundance and Dissimulation

Commentary by

Like the pair of disciples on the way to Emmaus who are unable to recognize the resurrected Christ, the viewer of this painting is initially distracted from appreciating its underlying theme. Joachim Beuckelaer crowds the foreground, which dominates the composition, with a hyperbolic abundance of produce and crockery. This highly tactile and faithfully rendered kitchen scene is a temptation of the senses. Its surfeit at first conceals and then reveals the significance of the biblical scene hidden within the composition.

The small background scene at upper right illustrates Luke 24:28–29, in which a trio of wayfarers—the resurrected but incognito Christ flanked by Cleopas and the unnamed disciple—are on the verge of parting at day’s end, indicated by the sunset in the landscape beyond. The disciples see, even touch, Christ and yet do not recognize him. The painter appears to have selected the precise moment when Christ feigns an intention to continue his journey while the disciples, still unaware of his identity, persuade him to join them for a meal.

This is suggested by the postures of the three figures: Jesus expresses his intent to go on by making a gesture of resistance with his right hand, while the two disciples reach for his arm and shoulder, entreating him to break his journey. The ambiguity of this moment—will he join them, or continue?—heightens the narrative tension of the picture and stresses the journey motif of the Emmaus story. The disciples are on the literal road between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but symbolically, their journey is from ignorance to insight.

The pictorial element bridging the two layers of Beuckelaer’s inverted composition is the pheasant hanging from the rafters before the kitchen’s framing column. This pheasant is the only ‘seeing’ element of the still life, emphasized by the conspicuously bright red feathers that surround its open eye. Its pupil, and thus its gaze, is directed towards the biblical action unfolding in the distance; it sees even as the viewer does not. The abundant still life thus becomes not only a celebration of the senses but also a reminder of their limitations—particularly of sight, the defining theme of the Emmaus sequence.

 

References

Falkenburg, Reindert. 1988. ‘Iconographical Connections between Antwerp Landscapes, Market Scenes and Kitchen Pieces, 1500–1580’, Oud Holland, 102.2: 114–26

Moxey, Keith. 1977. Pieter Aersten, Joachim Beuckelaer, and the Rise of Secular Painting in the Context of the Reformation (New York: Garland), pp. 98–102


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