A vase of flowers. A bowl of fruit. Why have images of still, unmoving life fascinated artists for centuries?

"Some have used them as a showcase for their talent," explained Masaru Igarashi, curator of the new exhibition of Italian still life paintings at Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art in Shinjuku. "But often it's simply for done for its own sake, for the joy of painting." Indeed, this intensely private pleasure is a common thread running through the exhibition, which covers five centuries of Italian art.

It is a journey of surprising twists and turns, leaping from the reality of the 18th century into the abstraction of the 20th century and super-realism of recent years.