Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 48



48
ANDRÉS DE LEITO / Vanitas
ANDRÉS DE LEITO / Vanitas
49
(one of the objects through which De Leito strove to
reveal his irrepressible creative variety) inexorably
marks out the hours, warning the viewer of the brevity
of earthly existence. The oil lamp, barely visible in
the dense shadow of the middle-ground, refers to the
same idea with its dying flame, while the skull clearly
evokes the absolute end of earthly life. In contrast, a
painting becomes a supernatural manifestation (Glory,
the Godhead, the Last Judgment, etc.) and locates the
moral element inherent in the theme within the specific
framework of Catholic culture, indicating the soul’s
destiny and the road to salvation.
Fig. 12 / Andrés De Leito,
Vanitas, oil on canvas, 73 x
93 cm, Madrid, Márquez de
la Plata Collection.
The example in the Márquez de la Plata Collection
(fig. 12), signed on a cartouche, and the Colnaghi picture
with a clear, if slightly damaged signature at the lower
right, are the most successful and complex treatments
of the subject by the artist.24 The dark, shadowy setting,
the crowded composition, and the distinctive brushwork
(generally broad but with short strokes for the details
and smaller objects) are all distinguishing factors.
The artist’s creativity and originality in treating the
subject of Vanitas are demonstrated by the fact that he
never repeated the same composition. Some objects
recur, but their position and viewpoint is always altered.
This suggests that De Leito had specific studio props,
including the portrait miniature, various jewels, and
the painting of the Last Judgement, which he used on a
number of occasions. The other objects, including the
vessels, trays, expensive flasks and decorative vases, are
depicted with rich inventiveness and apparent pleasure,
as already noted in the case of the large metal wine
coolers in his kitchen still lifes.
In all five compositions, the Vanitas concept is expressed
not only by the disordered mound of sumptuous jewels
(necklaces, rings, pendants and brooches) removed
from their small casket and now scattered on the table
top, but also in the equally luxurious and intricate
vessels, the mirror and the skull, which is only absent
in the version in the Márquez de la Plata Collection.
The sophisticated design of the turret-shaped clock,
almost always topped with slender figures of angels
In the two canvases from the El Infantado Collection
(see figs. 10 & 11) (both 64.5 x 77.5 cm), the depiction
of the Last Judgment is very similar but not identical,
with Christ seated on a sphere, holding the cross and
brandishing a sickle, the Virgin and Saint John the
Baptist kneeling at his feet in prayer, and the ghostly
presence of other figures.25 In both cases the image
should be understood as a divine presence, rather
than a mere painting. Other elements scattered over
the table top include a book, a skull, and a mirror, the
latter reflecting only heavy shadows. On the opposite
side there are sumptuous objects such as the clock,
female portrait, coins and exquisitely designed small
vessels, with an oil lamp in the centre. Among brooches,
pendants, necklaces and chains spilling over the table
are examples of the typical pilgrim cockle shells of
Saint James, as well as a laurel wreath, which is not
found in other versions of the subject, but refers to
the futile glory of personal success. The most striking
elements of all, however, are the unusual silver trays
and glass and gold vessels located on both sides of the
composition. These are decorated with imprecisely
defined figures of children similar to those on the wine
coolers and vessels in De Leito’s kitchen scenes.
Larger and more complex than the El Infantado pair,
is the Vanitas in the Márquez de la Plata Collection
(see fig. 12) (73 x 93 cm), which is signed ANDRES/
DELEITO F on a simulated paper cartouche hanging
from the table. Once again it juxtaposes the darkness
of the mirror, which has a richer frame, with the
ghostly luminosity of the celestial scene exhorting
good conduct. From its foreshortening and framing,
it is evident that the image is a painting depicting
Christ Carrying the Cross and standing on the sphere,
accompanied by the kneeling Virgin and Saint John,
with the suggestion of other imprecise figures (angels,
cherubim) that blend into the clouds.
Fig. 13 / Andrés De Leito,
Vanitas, oil on canvas, 59 x
79 cm, Madrid, formerly in
the Blanco Soler Collection.
Of similar appearance are the pseudo-figurative forms
covering the refined perfume flask, as well as the shelllike relief motifs on the unusual vessel located behind
the mirror. The time-worn book, open casket, gold
dish holding coins and adorned with silver cherubim,
turret-shaped clock and miniature of a woman are
all arranged on a jumbled pile of necklaces, strings of
pearls and a delicate hairnet, veil or collar of Spanish
lace, considered the paradigm of sumptuousness.26 It
does not, however, include some objects traditionally
present in this genre, such as the skull and oil lamp.
Much more condensed and austere is the Vanitas
formerly in the Blanco Soler Collection (fig. 13) with
the false signature of Pereda. This focuses on a skull
resting on a book with tattered pages and reflected in
an obliquely positioned mirror in a clear expression
of the notion of Vanitas. Emerging from the ghostly
middle-ground are the imprecise forms of an oil lamp
and clock of rather summary design. Scattered on the
table top on the right are the habitual jewels, chains
and necklaces, next to a miniature of a woman with a
melancholy expression, as well as a costly perfume flask
and some playing cards in reference to the fragility of
beauty, fickleness and worldly games. The structure of
the composition, its atmosphere, the type of objects and
the manner of painting reveal the hand of Andrés De
Leito and confirm that the signature is not correct.
The newly discovered Vanitas with Colnaghi (see figs. 1
& 9),27 has a partly truncated signature at the bottom:
“ANDrES/ DELEITO/ FE.T”. The most sumptuous
and complex of the group, it includes elements present
in the other versions together with previously unseen
objects that make it a Baroque hieroglyphic of vanity
with a direct allusion to sin and salvation. Once again
set in a ghostly, rarefied atmosphere, on one side are
luxurious objects including an ewer, some splendid

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