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Still Life with flowers, sweetmeats and a violin
(Giuseppe Recco)

Description

This rich and exuberant composition was attributed to Recco by John Spike (op.cit., pp. 92?93), but in the same year Bologna proposed an attribution to the French painter, Meiffren Conte. Spike recognised the letters ‘G R’ in the violin’s broken string, which dangles in front of the carpet in the right foreground, and this corresponds to the artist’s monogram. Spike goes on to point out that, although the exhibited painting shows strong affinities with other works by Recco which depict similar subject matter (such as the Still Life with Masks and Musical Instruments, Rotterdam, Boymans van Beuningen Museum ? a painting which like the exhibited picture is also not universally accepted as being by Recco), the Matthiesen painting might at first sight be confused with the style of the sumptuous compositions painted by Francesco Fieravino, called Il Maltese ( active around the middle of the century) or those of his imitator, Meiffren Conte ( documented as being in Rome in 1651) if it were not for the painter’s signature in the violin string.

Shortly after the appearance of Spike’s catalogue, Bologna published a pair of still lifes then on the Roman art market (op. cit.). One of these is an almost exact copy, with a few small variations, of the exhibited picture, while its pendent of Flowers, Fruit, and an Engraved Plate also represented a composition of objects displayed on a carpet with cushions.

In the Roman copy, the interlaced violin string is also present, but Bologna does not accept that this represents a Recco monogram. Instead, contesting that any of these pictures is of Neapolitan origin or indeed even Italian, because in his opinion the silver vases and engraved plates are probably of Parisian or Flemish origin, he inclines to attribute them to Conte, ‘perhaps to a period which immediately follows that artist’s Roman sojourn’.

There is no easy solution to this problem, especially in view of our limited knowledge of Recco’s early maturity towards the middle of the century. Clearly the artist would have been aware in Naples of the same cultural developments which Fieravino and Conte would have experienced in Rome during the same years.

Nevertheless, there are reasons that still incline one to retain an attribution to Recco whether or not one accepts the existence of the monogram formed by the violin string in the exhibited picture.

If one compares the three pictures discussed (a fourth pendant to the existing picture probably remains to be discovered), then the vastly superior quality of the exhibited picture, when compared to the pictures formerly on the Roman art market, is at once apparent. Furthermore, there are a number of small differences between the two similar compositions, such as a more intricate detailing of the pages of music in the London picture, different music, and above all a wickerwork basket in the Rome picture which replaces the crystal flower vase containing a bunch of flowers in the left background of the London picture. These differences and the weaker quality of the Roman versions can only be explained if they were executed by a copyist who had originally known the London picture together with its missing pendant.

Even though the works of Fieravino and Conte were widely known by mid?century, their richly exuberant and sumptuous style is little more than a lavish form of superficial decoration, lacking in depth and the carefully analysed rendering of tactile qualities, differing textures, and visual perspective of the many varied objects in the exhibited picture. Although the richness of composition in our picture reflects an interest in the Baroque, the careful delineation of texture and light and shade still finds its roots in the traditional naturalistic style which is the hallmark of an earlier period of Neapolitan still life painting, from Paolo Porpora to the earliest works of Luca Forte and Giacomo Recco. Together with Giovan Battista Ruoppolo, it is exactly Giuseppe Recco who best exemplifies the transition from a naturalistic to a Baroque style in still life painting in Naples.

On the other hand, even if one does not accept the Rotterdam Still Life as an autograph Recco, a work which is extremely close to the exhibited picture and which for a long time was considered typical of Recco’s early maturity and its Lombard sources, there are striking comparisons between our picture and a number of canvases which have come to light in recent years, many of which are either monogrammed, signed and/or dated by Recco. These similarities are evident in the treatment of flowers, crockery, cloths , and even in the heaped sweetmeats which are typically South Italian and above all Neapolitan in origin. The most persuasive confrontation is with a monogrammed Still Life with Sweetmeats (Banco di Napoli) and another signed Still Life with Flowers, Fruit, Sweetmeats, Crockery, and Carpets, which was formerly in a private collection in Spoleto (both pictures included in Civilta del Seicento a Napoli, Naples, 1984, p. 401?2, nos. 2.192 and 2.193). There are also affinities with the beautiful Still Life with Black Servant which is signed and dated 1679 (Seville, Duke of Medinaceli collection) recently exhibited in Madrid (Pintura Napolitana de Caravaggio a Giordano, Madrid, 1985, p. 256, no. 105), particularly in the pottery. However, the Spanish picture is certainly a little later than the exhibited work.

Finally, the presence of silverware in the exhibited picture, even if it is of French or Franco?Flemish origin, and its Roman copy is not in itself a decisive argument for the picture’s cultural origin, as silver of this type was exported throughout the Mediterranean basin.

Measurements
119.4 x 161.3 cm.
Type
Oil on canvas
Literature

Natura morta, Opere della natura morta europea del XVI al XVIII secolo, Exhibition catalogue, edited by Ferdinando Bologna, Galleria Cesare Lampronti, Rome 1983, p. 56.

Exhibited

Italian Still Life Painting from Three Centuries, New York, Tulsa, Dayton, Catalogue edited by John Spike, Florence 1983, pp. 92-93, no. 31.

Where is It?
Acquired through The Matthiesen Gakkery by an italian Collector
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Subject
Still Life - Floral
School
Italian - Neapolitan
Catalogue
1986-Baroque III: 1620 - 1700.
An exhibition in memory of Sir Ellis Waterhouse and on behalf of The National Art-Collections Fund. Introduction by Sir Peter Wakefield. Essays by Francis Haskell, Cecil Gould, Francis Russell, Charles McCorquodale and Craig Felton. 152 pages, 15 colour plates, 30 black and white illustrations. £15 or $23 inc. p.& p.

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Price band
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