Still life Caravaggio.jpg

Robin (Kermit’s nephew) liked to sit half way up the stair. One of my favourite sitting places is Baroque Art (1600-1800) in the Ashmolean.

Finding somewhere to sit in the Ashmolean is an art form in itself – many of the seats have no back – others are designed for giants, possibly aliens. But in Baroque Art (1600-1800) there are seats with backs which allow your feet to rest on the floor. So that’s where I sit. Often I write my diary, sometimes I fall asleep. Sometimes I just sit.

The drawback is that, when not writing or dozing, you can really only look at the painting in front of you. in Baroque Art (1600-1800) this means a choice between a pietà and Moses being hidden in the bulrushes against the backdrop of a very unconvincing Ancient Egypt, neither of which I particularly like. I generally choose the pietà .

Before I leave, I generally look at one of the other paintings – there’s a delightful one of a manifestly real and much-loved dog and a Caravaggio with the snappy title Interior with a Still Life a Young Man Holding a Recorder. It’s one of my favourites.

But isn’t still life a bit – well – boring? Not at all. A well-executed still-life is an artistic tour de force. It demands attention to detail, a mastery of texture equal to that of the most luxuriant royal robe and a mastery of light far beyond the simple light and shade of a candle-lit tavern. For here is bread, fish, glazed pottery, polished metal and Chinese porcelain; here are jugs of water, glasses of wine, downy peaches and translucent grapes good enough to eat.

And if a still life is an opportunity for an artist to demonstrate his skills, it is also an opportunity for patrons to demonstrate their wealth and sophistication. In the Dutch Golden Age, for example, exotic fruits and rare plants were evidence of conspicuous wealth, international connections and a scientific outlook.

Or maybe they just liked looking at pictures of food.