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Roman School, 17th Century
Roman School, 17th Century

A melon on a plate, with gourds, plums and apples on a stone table

Details
Roman School, 17th Century
A melon on a plate, with gourds, plums and apples on a stone table
oil on canvas
31 5/8 x 37 ¾ in. (80.4 x 95.8 cm.)
Provenance
Private collection, Europe.

Lot Essay

This beautifully composed painting is a striking example of the type of works produced by the first generation of Roman still life painters and shows the profound influence of the dynamic visual vocabulary inaugurated by Caravaggio. Though the hand responsible for its creation remains an open question, attributions to Cecco del Caravaggio and the anonymous Pensionante del Saraceni have both been proposed. Moreover, several scholars have noted that the weathered stone table, the arrangement of gourds and melons and the central shaft of light that illuminates the composition are all exceedingly close to the Still life with fruit on a stone ledge offered Sotheby’s, New York, 31 January 2013, lot 29, proposing that the two works may be by the same hand.
As with Caravaggio’s Basket of fruit of 1599 (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan), arguably the most strikingly original Italian still life painting of the period, the composition of the present painting has been stripped to its essential elements as a means of heightening its visual power and immediacy. Here, however, the relatively subdued worm-eaten fruit of Caravaggio’s composition has given way to what can only be described as an overtly vulgar composition of a rather phallic gourd suggestively placed between two melons. This arrangement plays on the popular contemporary belief that the shapes of certain plants were inherently anthropomorphic and that, by extension, particular fruits and vegetables could be associated with specific human organs. This idea had been most forcefully presented in Giambattista della Porta’s Phytognomica of 1588, a volume that grounded the metaphorical play between food and sex within a semi-scientific framework.

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