The artist was christened by Professor Luigi Salerno (La natura morta italiana, 1984, pp.18-21) after a group of still lifes with bowls of fruit, two of which had been published by Professor John Spike (in the catalogue of the exhibition, Italian Still Life Paintings from three Centuries, New York, Tulsa and Dayton, 1983, nos.3-4) as 'Anonymous Lombard, c.1600'. Their attempts to identify the artist as Italian have not, however, gained acceptance. The most important of the pictures illustrated by Salerno, that formerly owned by Victor Spark in New York, had previously been published as the work of Sánchez Cotán by Ramon Torres Martin (La Naturaleza muerta en la pintura española, 1971, colour pl.8) and it was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 3 June 1988, lot 140, with a tentative attribution to that artist. Although recent research has established beyond doubt that the painter was Spanish, indeed that he was 'a still life painter of major importance in the history of Spanish art' (Professor William B. Jordan, private communication of 25 March 1992), his identity has not yet been established and 'The Master of the Lombard Fruit Bowl' remains the most convenient nomenclature (a still life published by Professor Salerno in Nuovi Studi su la Natura Morta Italiana, 1989, pl.17, appears to be the work of a different, Italian hand).
The present painting is clearly by the same artist as the ex-Victor Spark picture. Of even larger size, it repeats and elaborates the artichokes (two in the Spark picture, three here) which fill the left half of the composition. Both paintings display the same very refined treatment of the soft light filtering in from the upper left as it catches the backs of the leaves and the objects to the right of centre. In both the stone pedestal is undecorated in order not to divert attention from the objects, which are few in number.
A group of closely related pictures has recently been sold at Edmund Peel, Madrid (21 May 1991, lots 10-12; 29 Oct. 1991, lots 12-13, all as Tomás Hiepes). In these the compositions are more crowded, with decorated pedestals, and some details suggest the intervention of assistants. Professor William Jordan has informed us that he knows of approximately thirty still lifes in this style. Several of the pictures in this group have been related to the work of Juan van der Hamen y León (1596-1631), the present work in particular to the 'Still Life with a Basket of Cherries and Peas, and two Vases of Flowers' in the Barraca Sipán Collection, Madrid, first given to van der Hamen by Ramon Torres Martin (Blas de Ledesma y el Bodegon Español, 1978, fig.4; see also A. E. Pérez Sánchez's catalogues of the exhibitions Pintura Española de Bodegones e Floreros de 1600 a Goya, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1983-4, no.27, and Pintura Española de Bodegones e Floreros, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, and Nagoya City Art Museum, 1992, no.10)