The market scene is an important stage in the development of Dutch still-life and genre painting. The ‘Christ and the Adulteress’ group in the middle ground is easy to overlook. Yet it provides the key to the painting’s purport – a caution against the world’s sensual dangers. Since the Dutch and German verb ‘vögeln’ (literally ‘to bird’ – the term was originally used to describe a rooster mating with a hen) alluded as much to the sex act then as it does now, the same is implied by the various birds among the wares. The market women gaze boldly out at the viewer in what contemporaries would have understood as a further allusion to shamelessness and erotic desire.
The lawyer Karl Nikolaus Berg (1826–1887) was mayor of Frankfurt from 1868 to 1880. During his term of office he worked successfully for conciliation and adaptation to the new circumstances after Prussia’s annexation of the Free City of Frankfurt. Major achievements of his years as mayor included the rebuilding of the cathedral and numerous new construction projects – from the Eiserne Steg and the Kleinmarkthalle to the Opera House. This painting was donated to the Städel by his heirs in 1904.