FROM THE COLLECTION OF J. E. SAFRA
Although this pair of still lifes was unknown to scholars throughout most of the 20th century, Flavio Caroli became acquainted with them just after the publication of his monograph on Fede Galizia in 1989. In his letter of authenticity dated 15 July 1991, Caroli characterized the pair as being of exceptional quality, noting their powerful, almost celestial qualities.1 He considers them to be autograph variants of another pair of paintings by Fede Galizia sold at Sotheby's London on 12 December 1984, and now both in private collections (figs. 1 and 2).2 Along with Galizia’s signed and dated Crystal Fruit Stand with Peaches, Quinces, and Jasmine Flowers, which was sold at Sotheby's London on 8 July 2015 for £1,565,000 (fig. 3),3 the present pair can be considered among the most important additions to Galizia’s small but impressive corpus of works in recent decades.
A soft light illuminates each scene in this lot from the left, casting both a gentle gleam as well as subdued shadows upon the cool stone ledges, the lush fruit, and the delicate pottery, all set against a dark background. In one, bunches of fresh grapes with large green leaves are set within a decorative faience bowl. To the left of the bowl, a single grape has fallen onto the ledge from the overflowing bunches, while on the right sits a medlar, two quinces, and a pomegranate bursting with seeds. Just above the quinces, a yellow wasp rests atop a grape. In the other of the pair, a faience basket is filled with plums, quinces, and grapes, and is surrounded on the ledge by pears, six to the left and one on the right. In both examples, Galizia has not only focused on convincingly rendering the distinct variations in the flesh of the fruits, from the delicate yet vibrant pomegranate seeds to the undulating surface of the pears, but has also carefully described the fineness of the porcelain.
Exemplified in the present pair of paintings is Galizia’s sensitive approach to her subject matter, her acute eye for detail, and her preference for rendering still-lifes with a restrained simplicity that is echoed in works such as Francisco de Zurbarán’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, inv. no. F.1972.06.P).4 Never overfilled or cluttered and always imbued with a degree of naturalism, Galizia’s compositions impart quiet yet indelible impressions.
Fruit still-lifes in Italy around the turn of the seventeenth century were rare, the earliest known being Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit of about 1595-1596 (See S. Schütze, Caravaggio: the complete works, Cologne 2009, p. 248, cat. No. 7, reproduced). This example, now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, once formed part of the collection of Cardinal Federico Borromeo in Milan as did a few still-lifes by Jan Brueghel the Elder. While these still-lifes, with their intense realism, may have influenced the Milan-based Galizia, her innovative approach to the genre was unique and unparalleled during her lifetime and set the foundation for generations of artists to follow. The universal appeal of her still-lifes continues to transcend time and enchant viewers even today.
1. In his letter of 15 July 1991, Caroli notes: "Le confermo che i dipinti...sono opere splendide della pitricce Fede Galizia...La qualità delle due tavole in oggetto è tersa, astrale e potente, nell'alba di un genere che avrà un ruolo fondamentale nella storia della pittura moderna."
2. F. Caroli, Fede Galizia, Turin 1989, p. 88, cat. nos. 34 and 35, reproduced.
3. Oil on poplar panel, 31.2 by 42.5 cm, signed with monogram lower left: FG; and dated lower right: 1607.
4. Oil on canvas, 62.2 by 109.5, dated 1633. See O. Delenda, Francisco de Zurbaran 1598-1664, Madrid 2009, pp. 228-30, cat. no. 57, reproduced.
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