Title   Haal Woesters (Search for the image)
Translated title Here's Oysiers
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of an oyster vendor (`oesterverkoper’)

Code of occupational group 45220
Description A man with a large broad-brimmed hat, accompanied by a young boy with a soft cap, shouts out the availability of oysters packed into wooden barrels. The man has a very large barrel seated on his right shoulder; he supports that barrel with his upturned arm and right hand. He holds a second, smaller, barrel under his left arm. His left hand, under the barrel, is nonchalantly hooked to the top of his pants. Oysters in their shells can be seen in that barrel and the small barrel held by the boy, who stands to the left. Both face forward with their mouths wide open, no doubt crying out superior quality of their oysters for sale. The positions of their legs and feet suggest that both are standing still, but the boy is having difficulty supporting the weight. Step-gabled buildings are behind them.

Oysters were a popular shellfish in the Netherlands. They were eaten raw from the shell, often with a squirt of lemon juice or splash of vinegar; and they were cooked into stews and pies. Oysters in their shells kept for a week or more during cold weather, and thus, could be transported to towns a distance from the sea. Oysters were served at special parties and celebratory feasts. Popular belief thought oysters were aphrodisiacal. Johan van Beverwijck, a 17th-century medical authority, published Schat der Gesontheyt (Treasury of Good Health) in 1651, noting that oysters "arouse appetites and the desire to eat and make love, which pleases both lusty and delicate bodies."

Oysters glistening on the half shell are found in a number of Dutch still lifes; see, for example, Willem Claesz. Heda (1634) "Still Life with Oysters, Rummer, and Silver Tazza" (Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen). Jan Steen created a small, but powerful, image of a young woman of- fering a plate of oysters (Mauritshuis). His image of a man offering a woman an oyster (National Gallery, London) is thought to imply a proposition or sexual overture; similar connotations were found in Hendrick Pot's 1630 "Brothel Scene" (National Gallery, London). Steen also includes details of women opening oysters in a bustling tavern in "The Life of Man" and at a private party in "Easy Come, Easy Go" 1661, both at Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen. Oysters do not appear often in fish-market scenes; nor are there depictions of oysterman bringing in their catch.

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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