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"Life Before Martha Stewart"

Joachim Antonisz Whitewhale

Before turning to evidentiary painting for private detectives, the late-16th-century Dutch artist Whitewhale tried several other venues which might have served him as a source of gainful employment. The painting shown here was done for the popular Italian home improvement and decorating magazine Casa Oggi in its annual issue on the latest in kitchens, tableware and appliances, Casa Oggi: ultime cucine ed elettrodomestici

Whitewhale gave it his best shot, and as the painting demonstrates he succeeded brilliantly, even earning a bonus for fast turnaround from the graphics editor and given a new kitchen commission as a reward. But the artist felt a gnawing doubt about this contribution to Italian consumerism. Could he ever feel justified being simply a shill for vendors of the latest thing in roasting spits, herring broachers, cauldrons, crockery, basketware and children's furniture? Could he continue exploiting living and dead animals for a career and still keep his PETA membership?

The troubled artist was visited by a dream that night. He saw what he somehow knew was a kitchen, but unlike any he had ever seen. From his journal:

"There was no fireplace, no place to store food, no place to hang carcasses to dry, no place to store water and no meat safe. Everything was unnaturally clean, as no kitchen ever is. Worse yet, there wasn't a kitchen servant or scullion to be seen!

"Abruptly a strangely-attired woman appeared. Although she appeared cheerful enough, and seemed to be speaking to me in a voice I could not hear, her actions were very bizarre. First she took an oblong dish out of one box, which appeared to be filled with something frozen solid. She put it into a much smaller box, which she tapped several times until what looked like numbers appeared as if by magic.

"She then went to the table in the middle of the room and produced from a small closet the dried bones of a turkey carcass. This she placed on something like paper in the middle of the table, then, by moving a small cylindrical charm over it in mystical passes, she changed the bones into gold!

"Then the witch went to the little box and took out a steaming dish of food— I suppose had been placed there by a servant from behind the box— with her bare hands! This she took and set down next to the gold turkey carcass. At that point I awoke in terror. So powerful a witch is certainly to be feared!"

Whitewhale interpreted the dream as an omen warning him against pursuing a career as a painter of kitchen products, an omen he vowed to obey. Ever after he would make gestures to protect him from witches before entering a kitchen, and while there he would look about him constantly, expecting any moment to see the witch of his dream materialize.


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