Title   Levenden Bodt (Search for the image)
Translated title Live Flounder
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer's drawing of a fishwife ('visvrouw')

Code of occupational group 45220
Gender Female
Description In the foreground a hefty fishwife wearing an apron carries a huge flat basket of fresh fish on her head. She balances the basket with her left hand, while she cries out her wares. Behind her two fishmongers sit on upturned baskets looking after their wares. Their fish are displayed on planks casually arranged on overturned wicker baskets. A woman customer approaches the seated fish vendors. She carries a metal shopping can in her left hand. Fish are also displayed in shallow woven wicker baskets on the ground next to the standing fishwife.

Fish was a staple of the Dutch diet. Fish was available from rivers as well as sea waters. As a result, many coastal towns had separate markets for river fish and salt-water fish. River fish were often brought to quay side by fishermen who kept the fish they had netted in tightly woven wicker fish "cars" which bobbed in the water and permitted the fish to remain alive and fresh. Among the commonly available varieties of sweet water or fresh water fish were: trout, pike, bream, pickerel, salmon, and snoek. Sea fish, including herring, cod, haddock, were sold fresh, salted, or smoked.

Fishwives -- whether wives, mothers, sisters, or sweethearts of fishermen -- often met the salt-water fishing boats which plied the North Sea right on the beach and either sold the fish directly from the boats to customers who traveled out to Scheveningen to buy them, or transported the fish quickly to town for sale in markets or by door-to-door peddling. Live fish, sold out of water, as this woman was doing, had a short life. Towns had tight regulations prohibiting the sale of rotten or spoiled fish.

Many artists created paintings showing the sale of fish on the beach. Some painted still life arrangements of the fishing catch near the boats, showing the diversity of fish available. Fish market scenes were done by Jacob Cuyp in Dordrecht, Emanuel de Witte after he moved from Delft to Amsterdam, Jan de Bondt who worked in Utrecht, Hendrick Sorgh in Rotterdam, Adriaen van Ostade in Haarlem, and Jan Steen. So popular were fish as a common food that artists specialized in painting fish still lifes as can be seen in works by Jacob Gillig and Pieter de Putter.

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

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