Title   Vers en witte mosselen (Search for the image)
Translated title Fresh and White Mussels
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a mussel vendor (`mosselman’)

Code of occupational group 45220
Description Two mussel vendors are in a village square. One in the foreground, wearing a crude cap, is seated on the handle of his loaded wheelbarrow, his mouth open to cry out the good quality of his mussels. The second, standing behind the seated man, wears a broad-brimmed hat. He pushes his wheelbarrow, loaded with mussels, along the streets.

Mussels were a cheap and common foodstuff in the Netherlands. Gathered along estuary shorelines, they were the poor man's oysters. In cool weather, they kept reasonably well in their shells for a few days without spoiling. They were cheap, plentiful, and delicious when steamed with onions and vinegar, or cooked with milk and butter in stews and chowders. White fleshed ones, as contrasted to mussels with yellow or orange flesh, were especially prized as delicate and tender. Mussels could be cooked quickly in a covered pan over the fire and thus were especially popular with tavern customers who wanted a tasty bite to accompany their beakers and tankards of beer.

Many bordello scenes, "merry companies" of wealthy party-goers, and tavern scenes by artists such as Jan Steen and Adriaen van Ostade attest to mussels' popularity as food items, and the prevailing notion that they, like oysters, were an aphrodisiac. See, for example, Frans van Mieris "The Peasant Inn" at De Lakenhal Museum in Leiden for a none-too-subtle hint that mussels could inspire male lust for a compliant tavern wench. See also Jan van Goyen's (1625) drawing of a mussel seller with a wheelbarrow whose male and female customers carry mussels away in pails, baskets, and buckets (University of Leiden Prentenkabinet).

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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