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    Sale 7575

    Old Master and British Pictures

    25 April 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 54

    Bartolomeo Passarotti (Bologna 1529-1592) and Studio

    An old couple selling fish

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Bartolomeo Passarotti (Bologna 1529-1592) and Studio
    An old couple selling fish
    oil on canvas
    26¾ x 34 1/8 in. (67.9 x 86.6 cm.)


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    A nagging fishwife and a hen-pecked husband are the unlikely protagonists of this comic painting by Bartolomeo Passerotti. Around 1580, Passerotti and his fellow North Italian painters Vincenzo Campi and Annibale Carracci boldly introduced the new idea that serious paintings could also be funny, deploying ribald and surprising visual puns. Here, the old man with a floppy hat looks out bemusedly as he gets an earful from his wife. Their hand gestures explain the cause of her complaint. She jabs at him accusingly while he clutches a flaccid fish. Passerotti had earlier represented this quarrelling couple in similar but not identical attitudes in a large-scale Fishmongers in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, which was one of four such subjects acquired by Ciriaco Mattei in Rome in 1603. The series probably also included the Butchers, likewise in the Palazzo Barbarini, a Poultry Vendors in the Longhi collection, Florence, and a newly discovered Fishshop in a private collection (cf. D. Benati, La natura morta in Emilia e in Romagna, Milan, 2000, pp 21-25).

    Professor Barry Wind succinctly characterises these market scenes as 'a sustained bawdy joke, similar in wit and piquant obscenity to the butcher shop paintings by his Bolognese contemporaries, Passerotti and Annibale Carracci' (in Arte Lombarda, 47/48, 1977, p. 108). Of the Barberini Fish Vendors from which the present work derives, Wind observes, 'Passarotti's visual wit, the representation of an old man gingerly holding an exaggeratedly pointed fish, is underscored by traditional erotic associations of fish in both art and literature. In antiquity, for example, the erotic properties of fish were noted by the Greek [wits] ... That this tradition survives into the Renaissance can be illustrated by Bosch's use of the fish to symbolize lust ... and Lomazzo's association of fish with 'ribalderia' in his Trattato' ('Annibale Carracci's ''Scherzo'': The Christ Church Butcher Shop', Art Bulletin, 1976, p. 95).

    The autograph execution of the present picture was first proposed by Professor Luigi Salerno, who published it twice in 1984, including his important volume, Natura Morta Italiana 1560-1805. In reviewing the latter book in Storia dell'Arte, John T. Spike did not express doubts over the attribution. In recent writings, two authorities in this field, Angela Ghirardi (op. cit., 1986 and 2000) and Daniele Benati (op. cit.) assigned the picture to Passerotti's studio, a designation that cannot be excluded given the remarkable quality of Passerotti's studio headed by his eldest son, Tiburzio. The Lodi picture is executed with a noticeably more fluid handling and many fewer refinements than are found in the Barberini version datable to the early 1580s. On the other hand, this softer technique is characteristic of Passerotti's old-age style. In addition to a different chronology, the Lodi picture presents an evolution in its reading of the theme. The dazzling array of marine life is no longer the centre of attention. Instead, the old man and his wife are the protagonists in this later version, as if the artist's interests had shifted from natural history to the human comedy.

    We are grateful to Dr. John Spike for his assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.

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    Literature

    L. Salerno, in the exhibition catalogue, Natura morta italiana: Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, Florence, 1984, pp. 30-1, no. 6.
    L. Salerno, La natura morta italiana 1560 - 1805, Rome, 1984, pp. 24-7, no. 7.2.
    A. Ghirardi, 'Bartolomeo Passerotti', in V. Fortnunati Pietrantonio, ed., Pittura bolognese del '500, II, Bologna, 1986, p. 539.
    C. Höper, Bartolomeo Passarotti (1529-1592), Worms, 1987, II, p. 26, no. F106.
    A. Ghirardi, Bartolomeo Passerotti, Rimini, 1990, pp. 237-8, fig. 65a.
    Italian still life painting, The Silvano Lodi collection, exhibition catalogue, Jerusalem, 1994.
    D. Benati, La natura morta in Emilia e in Romagna, Milan, 2000, p. 38, no. 35.
    Italian still life painting, from the Silvano Lodi collection, Tokyo, exhibition catalogue, 2001, p. 38, no. 1.


    Exhibited

    Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek; and Berlin, Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen-Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, 27 November 1984-22 February 1985; and 6 September-27 October 1985, no. 6.
    Jerusalem, Israel Museum, Italian still life painting, The Silvano Lodi collection, June 1994.
    Tokyo, Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art; and on tour in Japan, Italian still life painting, from the Silvano Lodi collection, 28 April-26 May 2001, no. 1.