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Attributed to Vincenzo Campi (Cremona circa 1530/35-1591)
Attributed to Vincenzo Campi (Cremona circa 1530/35-1591)

Boy with a basket of poultry

Details
Attributed to Vincenzo Campi (Cremona circa 1530/35-1591)
Boy with a basket of poultry
inscribed 'ALMol[t]o Ill[ustrissim]o Sign[o]r mio[?]/pro[?] Colen[dissim]o il Sign[o]r M[...?]/Antonio Brognoli/Brescia' (lower right, on the paper)
oil on canvas
20¾ x 16¼ in. (52.7 x 41.2 cm.)
Sale room notice
Please note that this painting is sold unframed.

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Lot Essay

Ascribed in full to Vincenzo Campi by Mina Gregori and Daniele Benati, this fascinating picture of a boy displaying a basket of poultry is related to Campi's well-known genre scenes of the 1580s, which depict cooks and vendors of fruit, fish and poultry in a trenchantly realistic, life-like vein, often with comic and erotic overtones. As in those pictures, the figure engages the viewer directly with a pointed glance and lively, open smile, no doubt intended to provoke merriment in the viewer as prescribed by the north Italian art theorist Giovanni Lomazzo in his Trattato della pittura of 1584 (G.P. Lomazzo, Trattato dell'arte della pittura, scoltura et architettura, Milan, 1584, II, Chapter XXXIII). However, while Campi's market and kitchen scenes depict rustic peasants in a narrative context and often engaged in boorish behavior, the boy, perhaps a courtly page or servant, is here presented as an isolated figure, elegantly dressed in a gold-embroidered jacket with slashed sleeves, lace collar and cuffs, with his hair fancily curled. The precise meaning of the picture is enigmatic, but--given the sexually suggestive juxtaposition of the heads of the rooster and boy--may illustrate one of the many bawdy jokes or proverbs which were much in vogue among the cultured elite in late sixteenth-century Italy. The inscription on the letter which the boy holds--a standard type of formal address to an aristocratic individual at the time--suggests that the basket, and also probably the picture, is being delivered as a gift to an illustrious nobleman from one Antonio Brognoli from Brescia. The Brognoli family was well-established in Brescia by the sixteenth century, having been inscribed in the urban council there between 1588 and 1650 (J.M. Ferraro, Family and Public Life in Brescia 1580-1650, Cambridge, 2003, pp. 71, 228).

The naturalistic depiction of the birds suggests they were directly observed from life, reflecting the increasing interest among late sixteenth-century north Italian artists in the scientific study of nature. This, and the figure's compelling immediacy as both a physical and psychological presence, place the picture in a long tradition of Lombard painting which would culminate in the work of Caravaggio, who painted the Boy with a Basket of Fruit (Rome, Galleria Borghese) in Milan about a decade later.

The Boy with a Basket of Poultry is closely related to a similar composition by Vincenzo Campi in a private collection in Paris, in which a figure of nearly identical physiognomic type is shown with the arm and hand omitted and dressed in peasant clothing (Vincenzo Campi: scene del quotidiano, exhibition catalogue, Cremona, Museo Civico 'Ala Ponzone', 2000, cat. no. 13). Another version, in which the boy, more elegantly attired, is grasping a cat, is recorded in the photo archives of the Fondazione Federico Zeri at the University of Bologna (no. 80612, as Vincenzo Campi (?)).

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