La natura morta in Emilia e in Romagna: Pittori, centri di produzione e collezionismo fra XVII e XVIII secolo, D. Benati and L. Peruzzi, eds., Milan 2000, p. 18, reproduced fig. 1;
T. Da Costa Kaufmann, Arcimboldo: Visual Jokes, Natural History, and Still-Life Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 180, reproduced p. 179, fig. 7.6 (as by Crevalcore[?], and a fragment).
In a letter dated 15 April 1506, Isabella d'Este received a notice from her agent in Bologna, Girolamo Casio, of a shipment of goods that he had forwarded on to her. In addition to some olives ("quali saranno godute per amor mio"), he mentions that he is sending two paintings—a Magdalen by Lorenzo di Credi as well as another picture:
Uno quadro pieno de fructi facto per Antonio da Crevalcore, tra nui in questo exercitio singularissimo ma assai più longho che la natura.1
As surprising as the unorthodox mix of contents of the shipment and the familiarity of the letter's tone (Isabella was perhaps the most illustrious woman in all Italy), is the mention of a still life, not as part of a religious image or portrait, but as an independent and unique genre of painting. It is amongst the very first descriptions of still life proper in the modern era, and as Crevalcore as one of its first practitioners.
Federico Zeri was the first to identify the present work as by Crevalcore after its reappearance, when it was considered to be a work by a North Italian artist of the 17th century—clearly by association with Lombard still life painters such as Panfilo Nuvolone and Fede Galizia (see Literature). Zeri correctly understood that in fact the picture was earlier, and noted that the treatment of the fruit, so carefully realized as suggested by Casio's comment, related to still life elements in known works by Crevalcore in more usual genres. Although he never published his findings, his hypothesis was accepted by a number of scholars.2
As with so many other works of art of the late 15th/early 16th century, this Still Life of Grapes has its roots in antiquity. The composition is simple: a board is painted on which rests a white bowl filled with different varieties of grape. A bird alights on the fruit, ready to peck, while another bunch of grapes hangs from a straight vine at right. The composition is spare and direct, and anticipates still life painting as it would be practiced in the following centuries. However, to any educated viewer in Crevalcore's day, the elements and presentation would have brought to mind the ancient tale of the Greek painter Zeuxis, as told by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder. Zeuxis was one of the most famous painters of his day, and in order to prove his supremacy, challenged the rival painter Parrhasius to a contest. Each was to paint a picture, and then the two were to be judged. Zeuxis, Pliny says, painted:
some grapes, painted so naturally that the birds flew towards the spot where the picture was exhibited. Parrhasius, on the other hand, exhibited a curtain, drawn with such singular truthfulness, that Zeuxis, elated with the judgment which had been passed upon his work by the birds, haughtily demanded that the curtain should be drawn aside to let the picture be seen. Upon finding his mistake, with a great degree of ingenuous candour he admitted that he had been surpassed, for that whereas he himself had only deceived the birds, Parrhasius had deceived him, an artist.3
Needless to say, Zeuxis conceded the contest, but the story remained a potent paradigm for artists and connoisseurs from the Renaissance on.
1. "A painting full of fruit done by Antonio da Crevalcore, amongst us [ in Bologna] most talented in this type of work but who takes longer than nature does [to do it]." See A. Venturi, Archivio storico dell'Arte, vol I, 1888, p. 278.
2. Zeri had planned to publish the painting in an update to volumes on still life painting in Italy. Benati notes that Mario Modestini, the restorer, had also supported an earlier dating for the picture (see literature).
3. Pliny, Natural History, trans. J. Bostock, 1855, chapter 35.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale