I always enjoy Alison Gillmor's essays on popular culture, and Raise Your Tankards! (April 3) was particularly interesting to me, although not just for the literary content, which was excellent, as usual.
As a former librarian of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and an amateur art historian with a specialization in 17th-century Dutch painting, I was delighted to recognize the beautiful illustration accompanying the article. The picture is a reproduction of the painting Still Life with Oysters, a Roemer, a Silver Goblet and a Lemon, by the Dutch artist Willem Claeszoon Heda (1594-1680). The original is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The painting is particularly appropriate to the accompanying article in two ways. Its subject obviously deals with food and drink, which are voluminously chronicled in the Game of Thrones TV series, and at first glance, the painting appears to be a virtuoso study in high realism of the panoply of an opulent meal, featuring the play of light on elaborately ornamental surfaces and textures.
Even the unseen source of light, obviously a window at the left, is reflected in minute detail in the glass of the roemer (pronounced like "rumour," it's the wine glass with the thick, hobnail-patterned stem).
For Heda, and many of his contemporaries who also worked in the still-life genre, the true significance of paintings like this, however, was to call attention to and to symbolize the transitory and impermanent nature of life. Once food and drink are consumed, they're gone.
Vessels of glass like the roemer and the carafe in the background symbolize the paradox of the simultaneous resiliency and fragility of human life, inasmuch as glass is so hard that the only thing that can engrave it is a diamond, while at the same time it can be easily shattered.
In Game of Thrones, where life is a precarious and uncertain proposition, the allegory of Heda's painting is singularly apt.