Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Mustari, Louis Frank, 1930-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Art


Still-life painting; Dutch; Lemon in art; Still-life painting--17th century--Netherlands


This thesis examines the use of the lemon in Dutch still-life paintings in an effort to discover why such fruit, which is not indigenous to the Netherlands, could play such a prominent role in Dutch seventeenth-century paintings. What limited information is available about the lemon reveals direct religious meanings, as well as symbols of protection, love and indications of moderation. There is also a look at the three levels of meaning associated with all fruit, with further considerations made regarding the specific meanings of the lemon. The first level contains the meanings which all fruits share in general; the second level deals with the meaning attributed to fruit of a specific species; and the third level presents fruits which share similar characteristics, such as size, shape and color. Attention is given to the cultural aspects of the Dutch people and how their moral and social beliefs may have added significant meaning to the lemon. Included are the religious attitudes against displays of excess and the conflicts such attitudes caused within the Dutch psyche between possessing wealth and following religious warnings against gluttony. The use of the lemon is examined through its color perspective and as a trompe Voeil device in the context of interpreting a painting from each of six artists: Willem Claesz Heda, Pieter Claesz, Jan Jansz Van De Velde III, Jan Davidsz De Heem, Abraham van Beyeren and Willem Kalf. The interpretations show predominant symbolic associations made with the lemon in relationship to virtue through the Eucharist, love, and redemption while often juxtaposing such connections against other uses of the lemon as a warning against sinful excess, lust and false friendships. The final section discusses the numerous meanings associated with the lemon divided into two contradictory categories, virtue and sin, which cause the viewer to reflect on life, with the conclusion that moderation is the ultimate goal for good and contented living. The lemon’s meanings work with the other objects in the paintings to offer a greater meaning than the lemon or the individual objects could on their own.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [63]-65)


67 pages




Northern Illinois University

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