Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 45

Fig. 7 / Andrés De Leito,
Autumn, oil on canvas,
106.5 x 165 cm, Madrid,
Abelló Collection.
allows an attribution to De Leito of several still lifes
with fish. These include a painting in the Santamarca
Collection, in which the fish are also arranged on a
worn stone table decorated with a figurative frieze
painted in a similarly sketchy manner that is employed
also on the reliefs that cover the column shafts in the
background. A further four or five works depicting the
same subject in different private collections and on the
art market can be attributed to the artist through the
presence of comparable elements.15
Two of De Leito’s most vivid kitchen scenes are today
in the Juan Abelló Collection (figs. 7 & 8)(both 106.5
x 165 cm) . They are not signed, but relate closely to
those in the Instituto Amatller (see figs. 5 & 6) in terms
of their overall style, distinctive figure types, dark
atmosphere, and objects included. They are clearly
indebted to Flemish art of the late sixteenth century,
albeit omitting the evangelical themes included in the
middle-ground or as paintings within paintings in the
creations of Aertsen and Beuckelaer and subsequently
Velázquez, though arguably present to some degree in
the relief in the Amatller Still Life with Meat.
In the first of the Abelló still lifes, known as Autumn (see
fig. 7), the young woman bearing the tray with a roast
fowl and turning her head derives from an engraving
by Jacob Matham after a composition by Aertsen, as
does the man wearing oriental headwear who seems to
be lifting a slice of meat to his mouth while trying to
seduce the woman by placing his hand on her back. On
the stone table, decorated with reliefs on its front edge,
rests a splendid chased gold and silver wine cooler with
a central ornament of a gilt shell and three small figures
of children. An almost identical vessel appears in the
Amatller Still Life with Fish, where the cooler contains
a pair of fine bottles, together with apples and grapes.
Next to it is an ornate vase and what seems to be a
strawberry tart, while on the opposite side there is a loaf
of bread, a piece of cheese and a fowl waiting to be
plucked. The pervading darkness of the scene does not
allow the other elements to be identified.
In the second of the Abelló still lifes, known as Winter
(see fig. 8), there is a female cook holding a tray with
pomegranates, quince, redcurrants and other fruit, next
to a ledge with cardoons, pomegranates and greens.
Fig. 8 / Andrés De Leito,
Winter, oil on canvas,
106.5 x 165 cm, Madrid,
Abelló Collection.
There is also a lidded dish, a box of sweetmeats, a
bottle and some turrón, strings of garlic, chilli and red
peppers and an aubergine, while hanging from the
top is a dried rib and two clusters of fowl. Emerging
from the shadows behind the young woman is a rustic
looking man holding a turtle dove, who derives (apart
from the bird) from the above-mentioned print by
Matham. The frieze decoration on the stone ledge
depicts a swaying human figure leaning over and
extending one arm, the significance of which is hard to
determine.16 The contrasting nature of the two works,
which have formed a pair since they were painted,
undoubtedly indicates that they were once part of an
allegorical series of the Four Seasons, although it is not
easy to imagine how De Leito could have conveyed
the luminosity typical of Spring and Summer without
breaking the stylistic unity.
A less complex kitchen still life, though with a similarly
mysterious atmosphere, is that known as Woman with a
Swan (present whereabouts unknown). In the darkness
of the room, a woman, with a self-absorbed expression
holds a bird. Close behind, a man drinking fixes his
gaze on her and suggests a slightly ominous mood. The
only kitchen implements that can be discerned in the
shadows are a large cooking pot and a mortar. Besides
the straightforward subjects, it seems possible that a
moral message underlies all these kitchen still lifes.17
The pervasive darkness in these and all De Leito’s
paintings has led to the suggestion that he worked at
night,18 adding a further aura of mystery to this already
obscure figure.
De Leito’s most successful still lifes are undoubtedly
those treating the Vanitas theme in paintings, like the
recently discovered work with Colnaghi (figs. 1 & 9)
(107 x 155.5 cm). In De Leito’s paintings and the
visual arts in general, the subject of Vanitas (literally
meaning “empty” in Latin) derives from Ecclesiastes
12:8: “Vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes omnia vanitas”
(“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”). In sixteenth-century
Spain, the idea was developed in the writings of Fray
Diego de Estella (Toledo, 1562), as well as in the earlier
introduction by Fray Luis de Granada to Thomas a
Kempis’s Contemptus Mundi (1536). These texts abound
with comments on deceptive beauty, mortal loveliness,


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