This picture may appear to reproduce the casual clutter of an 18th-century tabletop. Not so. Chardin carefully selected objects to convey specific meanings. A palette with brushes, placed atop a paint box, symbolizes the art of painting. Building plans, spread beneath drafting and surveying tools, represent architecture. An ornate bronze pitcher alludes to goldsmithing, and the red portfolio symbolizes drawing. The plaster model of J. B. Pigalle’s Mercury, an actual work by a friend of Chardin’s, stands for sculpture.
The cross on a ribbon is the Order of Saint Michael, the highest honor an artist could then receive. Pigalle was the first sculptor to win it. So this painting sends multiple messages: it presents emblems of the arts and of artists’ glory and honors a specific artist, Pigalle.
(Text courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, CC BY 3.0.)