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    Sale 2135

    Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture

    28 January 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 82

    Follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

    Melons, apricots, grapes and apples on a stone ledge

    Price Realised  

    Follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
    Melons, apricots, grapes and apples on a stone ledge
    oil on canvas
    19½ x 25 5/8 in. 49.5 x 65 cm.


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    This important painting is one of the earliest known Roman still lifes, dating from the beginning of the seventeenth century. Together with a pendant Vase of flowers, cherries, figs and two butterflies also formerly in the Silvano Lodi collection, the painting belongs to a group of five Caravaggesque still lifes that have been repeatedly illustrated and discussed by scholars. Ferdinando Bologna initiated the research in 1968 with his attribution to Caravaggio of a Vase of Flowers, fruits and two butterflies in the Lorenzelli collection (Natura in posa, 1968, no. 9). The painting had a matched pendant in the same collection published by Federico Zeri in 1976 (Diario di Lavoro 2, pp. 102, figs. 100-101). In Zeri's opinion, the two Lorenzelli still lifes significantly contributed to our knowledge of Caravaggio's early still lifes but were not by the master himself.

    Luigi Salerno completed the composition of this group with the discovery of the present painting and its pendant. In two publications of 1984, Salerno demonstrated that these pictures, together with a still life in the Molinari Pradelli collection, were by the same hand Bologna had sought to identify as Caravaggio. The comparison was facilitated by the repetition of such motifs as the split-open melon and the branch of peaches. Salerno also observed that these motifs, including also a distinctive pietra-dura vase, were subsequently copied in some small paintings by Agostino Verrocchio. This was proof, Salerno wrote, 'that prototypes existed which were regarded as important models. The latter, in my opinion, are to be identified with the two still lifes exhibited here', referring to the present picture and its pendant.

    Very little was known about Agostino Verrocchio at that time. A signed painting published by John T. Spike in 1983 (Italian Still Life Paintings from Three Centuries, fig. 52) was the basis for the attribution of a number of still lifes that shared the same compositional pattern: a fruit basket on a stone ledge, a scattering of other fruits especially melons and peaches, and strong contrasts of light and dark in the style of Caravaggio. Documents placed Verrocchio in Rome, with a few gaps, from 1619 to 1631. Agostino resided in the same house as his older brother, Giovanni Battista Verrocchio, a painter who died in 1626. The link pointed out by Salerno concerned the influence of these early still lifes by a close Caravaggio follower (according to Bologna, Caravaggio himself) on the work of a later, essentially decorative artist. An unexpected result of this observation, however, was a tendency for subsequent scholars to date these paintings, and the origins of Caravaggesque still life in general, in conjunction with the earliest record of Verrocchio in Rome, circa 1620.

    Ample evidence exists to refute that unsustainably late date, including, most recently, the discovery of the birthdates of Giovanni Battista and Agostino Verrocchio. Born in Rome in 1573, Giovan Battista Verrocchio was a contemporary of Caravaggio in a position to observe every phase of the Lombard's Roman years, 1592-1606. His younger brother Agostino was born in Rome around 1586: he would have embarked on his career under his brother's guidance a few years before Caravaggio's tempestuous flight from Rome in 1606. These circumstances, considered in conjunction with their numerous paintings, date the formation of the Verrocchio studio to well within Caravaggio's own lifetime. A hypothesis recently proposed by Drs. Gianluca and Ulisse Bocchi (Pittori di Natura Morta a Roma, 2005, pp. 14-16) deserves serious consideration, namely, that Giovanni Battista Verrocchio, the founder of that important studio, was also the author of the present painting, so strongly reflective of Caravaggio's Roman still lifes.

    Provenance

    Silvano Lodi; Christie's, New York, 6 April 2006, lot 57, ($251,200 to the present owner).


    Literature

    L. Salerno, Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1984, pp. 40-41, no. 11.
    L. Salerno, La natura morta italiana 1560-1805, Rome, 1984, pp. 46-47 and 49, fig. 13.3, illustrated.
    F. Zeri, La natura morta in Italia, Milan, 1989, p. 665, no. 788, illustrated.
    A. Cottino, et al., 'La natura morta caravaggesca a Roma', in F. Zeri, ed., La natura morta al tempo di Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, Naples, 1995, p. 129, no. 25.
    Italian still life painting, from The Silvano Lodi collection, exhibition catalogue, Jerusalem, 1994, p. 32.
    Italian still life painting, from The Silvano Lodi collection, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, 2001, p. 47, no. 9.
    M. Gregori, 'Le botteghe romane e l'accademia di Giovanni Battista Crescenzi', in La natura morta italiana de Caravaggio al Settecento, Milan, 2002-03, p. 36, as 'formerly attributed to Caravaggio, c. 1593'.
    S. Dathe, Natura morte italian: Italienische stilleben aus vier Jahrhunderten, Sammlung Silvano Lodi, exhibition catalogue, Ravensburg, 2003, p. 39.
    G. Bocchi, et al., Pittori di Natura Morta a Roma. Artisti Italiani 1630-1750, Viadana, 2004, pp. 14-16.


    Exhibited

    Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinokothek, Munich, Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, 27 November 1984-22 February 1985, no. 11; Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen-Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Berlin, 6 September-27 October 1985.
    Musei capitolini, Rome, La natura morta al tempo di Caravaggio, 15 December 1995-14 April 1996, no. 25.
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Italian still life painting, from The Silvano Lodi collection, June 1994, cat.
    Seiji Togo Memorial Museum of Art, Tokyo, Italian still life painting, from The Silvano Lodi collection, 28 April-26 May, 2001, no. 9; and on tour in Japan.
    Schloss Achberg, Ravensburg, Natura morte italian: Italienische stilleben aus vier Jahrhunderten, Sammlung Silvano Lodi, 11 April-12 October 2003.