Traditionally when we think of a still life we automatically think of a simple scene with some fruits or other plant elements in a vase, however, there is a variation in the still life theme that was very popular from the Renaissance, the incorporation of dead animals. Thus we can appreciate different works in which the artists incorporate some animals -normally hunting- in their still lifes, this trend was very prominent in the countries of northern Europe from where some of the most significant still lifes of all time have come to us, perhaps for this reason we are not surprised that the work we are analyzing today is by one of the most distinguished artists of the Dutch school of painting, Rembrandt.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) is one of the most prominent painters of the Dutch school of the Golden Age. The artist successfully cultivated both painting and engraving and is currently considered one of the one of the great masters of all time.
On this occasion we find ourselves before a work done in oil on wood, something unusual since at this time the most common was to work on canvas; the work has a vertical format and is about ninety-five centimeters high and almost seventy wide. The piece appears signed and dated by the artist himself, so we can place it without fear of making a mistake in theyear 1655, thus belonging to the time of maturity of the artist, when his style was already fully developed.
In the canvas we observe in the foreground and dominating the scene the carcass of a skinned ox hanging from a tree near the ground. The piece of torn meat occupies most of the composition and has been recreated with great realism and detail, providing the viewer with an unpleasant view of its entrails and viscera. The corpse of the animal hangs inside what appears to be a darkened basement, in the background in the background the presence of a woman with a cap can be seen leaning out of a wall as if she feared being discovered.
Traditionally it is considered that this female figure represents the butcher's wife who has skinned the animal, in this way we would find ourselves more before a genre scene than before a proper still life said.
Be that as it may, the truth is that Rembrandt has done an unparalleled job in the composition of the canvas, in the realistic representation of the scene and, of course, in the lighting effects. In fact, some authors indicate that this canvas together with another of the same theme dated a few years earlier, in 1643, would be light studies made by the artist as some Impressionist artists would do years later, such as Monet in his Rouen Cathedral series. This hypothesis acquires a certain sense if we think that a painting with such a bloody theme would have little outlet in the art market and it is more likely that theartist did it on his own initiative