This impressive winter still life is likely one from a series representing the twelve months, of which only six have been identified thus far. February in the collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid (fig. 1), has the same compositional formula: a stone ledge laid with naturalistic foodstuffs and a small window looking out onto a seasonal landscape in the background. Although the present painting lacks the inscribed month (likely December or January), as seen in the Prado’s painting and in other extant examples, the canvasses have virtually identical dimensions. It is not known whether these paintings were made as a single commission, but that seems unlikely given their large size. Barrera may have capitalized on the popularity of seasonal still lifes and expanded the series to sell to more patrons.
Barrera's winter still life provides a glimpse into the 17th-century Spanish traditions, allowing the viewer to imagine the hearty feast to come from the display. At the same time the many thematic contrasts call to mind broader moral themes often associated with still lifes. The surfeit of food represents wealth and temporary pleasure while the spare hut in the bitterly cold landscape seen through the window signifies poverty and worldly suffering. The promise of nourishment from the meat refers to life and vitality while the slaughtered hog forces the viewer to confront death.
Barrera's familiar subject matter of a pig or hog contains myriad literary and historical references, both positive and negative, that require the viewer's interpretation. In this way, the early modern composition also resonates with contemporary art. Damien Hirst's This little piggy went to market (fig. 2) echoes and expands upon the directness of Barrera's life-size work of realism. Both of the confrontational works invite the viewer to reflect on the gruesomeness of life and finality of death.
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