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Still Life With Hunting Trophies: Understanding It in a Modern Context

by Emma Moon

"Still Life with Hunting Trophies," Jan Weenix, Dutch, 1642?-1719. oil on canvas. Ackland Fund. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To the average modern-day viewer, Jan Weenix’s Still Life with Hunting Trophies is a grotesque portrayal of the way that humans take animals’ lives without care. The deer has blood on his muzzle and is lying in an awkward position. On top of the deer, the crane’s neck is completely limp. However, a broader social point was not Weenix’s original intent. In fact, when the painting was created in the late 17th century, this type of art was for upper-class individuals to display in their homes. Rather than attempting to comment on killing without care, Weenix wanted to create something for rich people to display just that: their ability to kill without care. Today, if people kill animals without the intent to use them for food or clothes, they are judged ferociously. Further, the more exotic an animal is considered, the higher the severity of punishments. In the late 1600s, it was the opposite, especially among the higher classes. To hunt and to display game meant more social capital for the rich. The bigger the game, the better. More exotic animals only added to how impressive the feat was. Over the last few centuries, the way that humans treat hunting and the display of caught game has changed drastically. However, the amount of killing that takes place has not changed.

Today, a higher sense of morality has been placed on hunting, separating many humans from animals’ deaths altogether. Many cringe while a truck full of chickens passes, but refuse to stop roasting and eating them. Others are aware of how animals are treated at farms to be prepared for slaughter but still eat meat. People’s reaction to Weenix’s painting resembles the mindset surrounding hunting today: to look away and critique the killing without making any real changes. In a modern context, the painting begs the question: are we really that different from our earlier counterparts?


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