Described by the 18th-century Florentine biographer Francesco Maria Niccolo Gaburri as 'an excellent painter in the depiction of kitchens, instruments, rugs, vases, fruit and flowers', Cristoforo Munari was born in Reggio Emilia, where he was a protégé of Rinaldo d'Este, Duke of Modena (reg. 1694-1737). In 1703 he moved to Rome 'where he served the Very Eminent Cardinal Imperiali and other princes and lords' (F.M.N. Gaburri, Vite de' pittori, Florence, c. 1730-40, p. 618) and settled in Florence some time after 1706, becoming part of the Medici court and working for, among others, Ferdinand, Cosimo III and Cardinal Francesco Maria de'Medici, for the latter of whom he decorated the Villa Lampeggi with trompe l'oeil still lifes.
Munari produced the present refined still life in the early 18th century, while he was working in Florence. The artist presents the viewer with an abundance of delicacies and precious porcelain vessels arranged on a green stone table. An unseen source illuminates the display from the left, bathing it in a cool light that causes some of the objects to shine like jewels against the dark background. Munari delights in the juxtaposition of brittle and crunchy biscotti, which are split and ready to be enjoyed with honey, with the smooth and shiny Delft and Chinese porcelain. Completing this symphony of fragility are the crystal vessels in the background, delineated according to Munari’s typical practice only the flickering light that reflects along their contours. The artist likely considered this technique to be one of his hallmarks, as he chose to depict himself holding a similar glass with a long, fluted stem in his 1710 Self Portrait (Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano) as well as in the circa 1710-15 Still life with musical instruments (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Resting on a pile of leather bound books, the clock, with its tortoise shell ornamentation and gilt-bronze mounts, may have actually been part of the Medici collection, and adds further elegance and sophistication to the scene.
We are grateful to Professor Francesca Baldassari for endorsing the attribution to Cristoforo Munari on the basis of firsthand inspection.