Saturday in the Museum with Peter Paul and Frans

Image: Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Snyders, “Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism” (c.1628-30).  Oil on canvas.

On Saturdays, we like to highlight works of art.  As a D.C. dining guide we especially like to highlight works of art connected to food.  We have been focusing on the golden age of still life painting recently.  Today we found a piece that is the joint work of two Dutch masters, Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Snyders.

Rubens was the great figure painter, Snyders a great painter of still life.  On several paintings they collaborated to contribute their strengths.  In this painting, “Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism,” Snyders painted the assembled fruits and vegetables in the foreground, then turned it over to Rubens to paint the figures.

This painting is in the British Royal Collection Trust and on display at Hampton Court.  The trust’s description includes some interesting tidbits:

“During work on this picture Rubens moved Pythagoras’s left arm, which had been extended in order to point to the fruit, and added the central nymph in the space thus created. This figure was regarded as typical of Rubens’s style c. 1630 and was said to differ markedly from the rest of the painting; but when the work was cleaned in 2009 this supposed contrast became much less apparent.”

Like many paintings of this era, the use of antiquity or religious subjects were put in service of the artist’s desire to paint something.  There is, however, more to the picture:

“It also operates on a more profound philosophical level. The text comes from the final book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses when he tells the story of the founding of Rome and describes an encounter between Rome’s founding King, Numa Pompilius, and Pythagoras, leader of a sect in Croton in southern Italy. Pythagoras (who is recognised by his trampling on that most forbidden of fruit, the bean) upbraids mankind for its savage cruelty in eating flesh (which is why he appears angry and Numa chastened); he speaks of the Golden Age when the fruits of the earth were enjoyed without labour, bloodshed or oppression (which is why fauns and nymphs fill so much of the painting in their happy and carefree harvesting). This subject offers interesting contrasts and parallels: noble and thoughtful men are contrasted with greedy and bestial fauns, but the fauns are the gentle vegetarians. Pythagoras and Numa resemble the moment Christ tells St Peter to ‘feed my sheep’, a deliberate parallel between the founders of Imperial and of Papal Rome.”

The provenance is interesting on its own: “In Rubens’s collection at his death; acquired by Philip IV of Spain; brought by Joseph Bonaparte from Spain to France; purchased from one Dr Stocco by Queen Victoria in 1841.”  How did one Dr. Stocco get his hands on it?


If you find yourself in Washington, D.C. to look at art, monuments or anything else and you need to find a great place to eat, that is where we come in like Frans Snyders to provide the food. We have more than 250 recommended restaurants listed – and only recommended restaurants listed.  You can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and/or rating!  In both MAP or LIST format.

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