Giuseppe Recco was the most celebrated Neapolitan still-life painters of his generation. Born into a distinguished dynasty of still-life painters that spanned the whole of the 17th century, he is generally thought to be the son of Giacomo and the nephew of Giovan Battista Recco. Luigi Salerno, however, has argued that his father was more likely to be Guglielmo Recco, about whom very little is known (see L. Salerno, La natura morta in Italia, Milan, 1989, II, p. 903). Although the family relationships are difficult to establish with certainty there is no doubt about their artistic affinities. The Reccos were celebrated for their naturalistic arrangements of fruit, flowers and fish, with Giuseppe considered by many as the most successful member of the family. The breadth and diversity of his repertoire were unmatched in 17th-century Naples, where he spent the vast majority of his career. Late in his life he was summoned to the court of Charles II of Spain, an honour he was sadly unable to enjoy, as he died soon after he arrived in Alicante, from a fever he contracted during the voyage.
In this picture Giuseppe depicts a humble group of items consisting of a bound kid goat, fresh squid and a bunch of asparagus, beside a blue and white dish and a copper urn, simply arranged on a shelf or ledge. The scene acquires a solemn dignity through the artist's intense observation and powerful naturalism. What is particularly interesting about this arrangement is that instead of being an artificial gathering of eclectic items to show off the artist's virtuosity in depicting different textures and surfaces, the various elements of this composition were more than likely assembled in preparation for a meal. Asparagus and squid flavoured with mint, and roast baby goat with Mediterranean herbs are both traditional dishes from around Naples, that may date from Roman times.
This picture was formerly in the collection of Otto Meyer, a highly respected and important figure in the Amsterdam art world. He was variously an art dealer, a collector, an inspirational teacher and laterly a curator. He was a one of the founders of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, and from 1952 held a number of posts at the Stedelijk Museum, becoming Director in 1963. He also taught for many years at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Born in Osnabrück, Meyer took over his father's antiques business in 1924 and rapidly becoming a successful art dealer as well as a pioneering collector of German Expressionism. With the rise of the Nazis he moved to Amsterdam, where he stayed during the war years, fighting with the Resistance. It was during this time that he met Willem Sandberg who, after the War was appointed Director of the Stedelijk Museum. It was Sandberg who persuaded Otto Meyer to take up a position in the Museum, thereby setting the course for his future career.