Title   Crabbe (Search for the image)
Translated title Crabs
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a crab peddler (`krabbenventer’)

Code of occupational group 45220
Description A well-dressed man (wearing a broad- brimmed hat, wide square white collar over his short coat with its many buttons, and neatly tied bows at the end of his pants legs) sits at a table in a tavern.
There is a wide-mouthed glass of beer or wine in front of him close to his right elbow; and a large stoneware jug, with a metal lid, is sitting on the table. The seated man has turned his right leg and torso to face a standing peddler at the right.

The peddler is also wearing a broad-brinuned hat, but has a scarf casually knotted at his throat, and his clothes are rumpled. The peddler holds a pail of crabs with his left hand. With his right hand, he passes a cooked crab to the seated man. The men appear to be talking animatedly. The seated man has his clenched right hand resting on his leg and is leaning his weight onto his left elbow on the table. The peddler is bending his knees and body towards the prospective customer.

Sunlight enters the tavern through windows at the left whose shutters are thrown open. A large, framed, landscape painting hangs on a nail in the wall behind the two men. Within that painting, a standing man is facing a seated woman near a clump of trees and seems to be handing her something.

Crabs and shrimp were available in the Netherlands. They were sometimes sold cooked in the marketplace or taverns; or brought home from peddlers and fish-stalls to be cooked. Often crabs were served with a butter sauce, perhaps made piquant with a squirt of lemon or a dash of vinegar.

The crab is used as an emblem with dice and playing cards by Jacob Cats, who advised parents not to teach their children gambling. Gambling is frequently shown occurring in peasant taverns, at parties for wealthy bon-vivants, in soldiers' barracks, and in bordellos. Bramer's crab, although sold in a tavern, seems to have no emblematic significance. Bramer's drawing captures some kind of dramatic exchange between the men, but few clues are provided to decipher what will happen. The tavern table and setting in this drawing closely resemble Bramer's 1656 illustration of Tyl Eulenspiegel seated at a table near a vomiting man.

Crabs are occasionally shown in paintings of fish-stalls, such as Adriaen van Ostade's 1672 "The Fishwife" (Rijksmuseum); or in still lifes, such as Abraham van Beyeren's 1654 "Still Life" (Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen) or Clara Peeters' "Still Life with Crab, Shrimps, and Lobster" (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). A "crabseller", shown actually with a cooked lobster, is the subject of a Frans van Mieris' painting (Rijksmuseum Twenthe).

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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