Please note the illustration in the catalogue is transposed.
Italian Still Life Paintings from the Lodi Collection
by John T. Spike
Art holds the mirror up to Nature
Shakespeare, Hamlet, c. 1601
In Italy around 1600 artists began to picture the natural world in a quest to penetrate its secrets. 'Caravaggio said it was as much work for him to make a good picture of flowers as one of figures,' said his patron Vincenzo Giustiniani - a bold defense of a new kind of painting: the still life.
Italy, the crossroads of Europe, fostered the circulation of this new and fruitful idea. The seventeenth century became the golden age of still life painting. Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish specialists in this genre have been celebrated ever since. The rediscovery of the Italian genius for depicting 'natura in posa' (nature suspended) followed Carravagio's own triumphant return in a landmark exhibition in Milan in 1951. Thirteen years later, in 1964, the first great show of Italian still lifes was hosted by museums in Naples, Zurich and Rotterdam.
The early collectors were true pioneers. None had a sharper eye, or traveled farther in pursuit of great works, than the founder of the Lodi collection. By 1983, when Italian still lifes were first exhibited in the United States with loans from European museums, ten of the show's 46 paintings were lent from the Lodi collection. A year later, the Lodi still lifes were exhibited together at Munich's Alte Pinakothek, followed by other museums.
The appearance of the milestone collection, which will be dispersed in four sales at Christie's - April and October in New York and July and December in London - marks the most important group of Italian still lifes ever offered at auction. Formed with insight and tenacity at a time when major works were in greater supply, the Lodi collection is unmatched in its representation of outstanding examples from the major schools.
One of its hallmarks has been a focus on the 'avant-garde' artists active before 1620. Florentine still lifes trace their origins to the botanical illustrations made by Jacopo Ligozzi (1547-1626) an avid naturalist in the employment of Francesco I de'Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Independent still life paintings by Ligozzi are exceedingly rare. The Lodi collection features a matched pair, each depicting two terra cotta vases with a bouquet of carnations. The delicate brushwork and calculated symmetry of these compositions have a Renaissance flavor that suggests a date as early as 1600. The strong, simple outlines of the vases and flowers underscore Ligozzi's pride in his command of detail.
At this time Fede Galizia was the leading still life painter in Milan. Seven years younger than Caravaggio, Galizia specialized in compact compositions that combine careful observation and monumental forms in a way that recalls her famous Lombard compatriot. Galizia was renowned in her own right as an artistic prodigy and a woman artist. Her talents attracted collectors from without Italy; A Bowl of Cherries, today at Hampton Court, was acquired by Charles I for the Royal Collection. Showered with commissions for portraits and altarpieces, Galizia produced fewer than twenty still lifes, including the spectacular Lodi A glass compote with peaches (lot 55).
After he left Milan in 1592 as a young man, Caravaggio's influence was mainly felt in his adopted city of Rome and also in Naples, which he visited twice. His biographer Giampietro Bellori credited the fiery artist with the foundation of the Roman style of still life. The master's innovative adherence to Nature is on full display in the Lodi pictures by Tomasso Salini and other Caravaggesque masters in the April sale. By the same token, several major works by the Recco and Ruoppolo families hold high the banner of Neapolitan still lifes, worthy rivals to Rome's.
Another woman painter, Giovanna Garzoni (Ascoli Piceno 1600-1670 Rome), ranks high among the rediscoveries in the field. It isn't as though her works were out of sight: more than 26 have been preserved in the Palazzo Pitti since she made them for the Medici Grand Duke. But the originality and freshness of her still lifes emerge impressively when compared to her peers. A Plate of figs (lot 56) is a superb example of her inimitable style, combining liberties of perspective with a playful pointillism.
By the middle of the seventeenth century most still life specialists had adopted a fanciful, splendid approach. Evaristo Baschenis of Bergamo was the most notable exception. Considered the artistic heir of Caravaggio, Baschenis uses light and shadow to imbue his compositions of musical instruments with deeply meditative overtones in the midst of enveloping darkness. His paintings were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000 - the only Italian still life master so honored to date. The impressive dimensions of the Still life with musical instruments (lot 60) in the Lodi collection make it an outstanding example of this rare master at the height of his powers.