Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 28

Too many cooks…; Cerezo, Barranco, De Leito, and the kitchen still life
Too many cooks…; Cerezo, Barranco, De Leito, and the kitchen still life in Madrid
Still Life with Lamb, Bread, and Kitchen Utensils shows, lifesized, an eviscerated lamb and a hen hanging at the left;
a game bird lies on the ledge in the foreground; and,
on the right side, there is a butchered halved head of
mutton – shorn of horns – and ribs, with cured ham.23
The evident “popularity” of the picture on the exhibition
circuit is perhaps surprising in light of its subject matter
and modern sensibilities around such a frank treatment
of slaughtered animals.24 In a health-conscious age too,
this mound of red meat could be considered far from
innocuous. On the other hand, the very history of art
acts as a significant corrective for the modern viewer. The
mesmerizing gaze of the sheep’s head brings to mind a
prurient fascination with death in the paintings of Goya
(Still Life with Ribs and Head of Lamb, 1808-1812, Musée
du Louvre) and Picasso (Still Life with Sheep’s Skull, 1939,
Private Collection).25 The aesthetic opportunity the artist
has seized here to make “meaty” pigment a metaphor for
the materiality of the subject – paint as meat / meat as
paint – can also be admired alongside Rembrandt and
Chaim Soutine, Francis Bacon, and Lucien Freud.
Fig. 4 / Andrés De Leito,
Kitchen Still Life with Meat,
signed, oil on canvas,
104 x 164 cm, Barcelona,
Instituto Amatller.
Fig. 5 / Andrés De Leito,
Kitchen Still Life with Fish,
signed, oil on canvas,
104 x 164 cm, Barcelona,
Instituto Amatller.
This was probably not quite how the picture was
regarded when it was painted. Then, it could be
eaten with the eyes and enjoyed in terms of more
basic kinds of wish fulfillment. The cycles of feast
and famine which characterized the period, and
significant fluctuations in the price of comestibles,
meant that these permanently painted foods emanated
a comforting symbolic sense of plenty and well-being.26
The presence of a copper eight maravedís coin in the
foreground refers in itself to the endemic economic
instability of the times, since it has been counterstamped in at least one of the periodic revaluations
of the currency. It is unlikely that a negative moral
meaning was intended here, although traditional
symbolic associations of meat with bodily satisfactions,
with worldliness and even with excess, were pitted
against forms of spiritual nourishment in imagery
current at the time.27 Such a reading would be to
neglect the significance of the most obvious commodity
of all – the work of art itself. This painting would have
cost much more than the objects it represents and is
likely to have been acquired by a collector of pictures
and shown as an aesthetic object. Indeed, the work
is a highly staged artistic performance; the different
masonry levels are designed to show to best effect the
abilities of the artist in the realistic representation of a
wide range of foodstuffs, and not merely to illustrate
the interior of a kitchen or larder. The knife with an
ivory handle (and stamped, it seems, with a letter “P”)
is an elegant piece of tableware, but also a proxy of the
painter’s brush which allows a dead lamb at the left of
the picture to be shown “skinned” at the right.
As a still-life painting, the work in the Prado can be
best understood in the context of the emergence
of “kitchen” pieces in Madrid around the middle
of the seventeenth century, even though the specific
contributions to this trend of different artists in terms of
dating and attribution are still unclear. These pictures
represent foodstuffs in relatively non-specific physical
environments which can be identified with a kitchen
or larder (despensa) – not market stalls – along with a
range of cooking receptacles and utensils. In the case
of Kitchen Still Life with Meat by Cerezo in Mexico (see
fig. 2), a cooking fire is also represented. The typology
was not entirely new in Spanish painting. There already
existed a tradition of pairing paintings of meat and
fish in accordance with the Christian culture of days
in which the eating of meat was permitted (carnal)
and days of abstinence (cuaresma) in which fish was
normally consumed, such as Fridays and set feast days.
Early pairs of such still lifes painted by Alejandro de
Loarte (1595/1600-1626), for instance, can be seen
as a precedent for the pair by Cerezo in Mexico.28
However, painters in Madrid around the middle of
the century probably also responded to imported
pictures which represented an inspiring alternative
to the tradition of Juan van der Hamen (1596-1631).
An uncompromising realism in the kitchen still lifes of
Neapolitan painters such as Giovanni Battista Recco
(active 1650s) – whose works include heads of butchered
animals – evidently appealed in Spain and a fashion
for fish paintings may have come from the works of
specialists such as Giuseppe Recco.29 Flemish kitchen
pictures by Frans Snyders, which often included whole
animals, are also relevant here, and the prestige of these
works in the royal collection and those of distinguished
nobles may well have acted as a significant incentive to
emulation.30 The latter also mark a return to an older
type of kitchen still life by sixteenth-century artists such
as Pieter Aertsen which had long been esteemed in
Spain. In these works, a generous array of foodstuffs is
accompanied by kitchen accoutrements associated with
their preparation and consumption, and their theme of
sensuality is played out by the (reprehensible) actions of
cooks, servants, and other lower-class figures.


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