The taste for highly-illusionistic pictures of tables heaped with inert/inanimate, often costly objects overlaid with dour moralizations could only have originated in the Netherlands.

The Calvinist rejection of religious imagery had coincided with the rise of capitalism and colonialism, resulting in an expanding middle class faced with greatly reduced options for art consumption. The increased demand for images was filled by the rapid development of the secular genres of landscape, portraiture and still life, the latter inviting the viewer to a meditation on materialism.

Along with the genre, the term still life originates in the Low Countries in the early 17th century. Karel van Mander describes Netherlandish pictures of flowers as stilleven in Het Schilder-Boeck (1604) and in 1622, Constantijn Huygens refers to pictures by Jacobus Torrentius and Jacques de Gheyn as inanimatis, a latinization of the vernacular term.

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