Death Comes to the Table by Giovanni Martinelli Acquired by Raleigh

1. Giovanni Martinelli (1600 or 1604-1659)
Dearth Comes to the Table, between 1625 and 1638
Oil on canvas - 114.2 x 158 cm
Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie G. Sarti

3/3/14 - Acquisition - Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art - We had already pointed out the acquisition of two paintings presented at the Sarti art gallery in a Caravaggesque exhibition last year : a Daniele Crespi purchased by LACMA and an Andrea Vaccaro by the Musée Fabre in Montpellier.

A third canvas from the same source will now hang in yet another museum, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. This is Death Comes to the Table by the Florentine artist Giovanni Martinelli. The work is well known through another, very similar version, also residing in the United States, in a New Orleans museum. Previously considered anonymous, it was then attributed to an anonymous French painter active in Italy. The one acquired by Raleigh was exhibited in Ajaccio in 2011 (see the article) under the now generally acknowledged name of Martinelli.

The painting is in fact a particularly cruel Vanitas : a group of young persons is celebrating when a shadow appears to the right of the canvas, to their dismay and fright, a skeleton, symbol of Death coming to call on one of them. One of the women points to the victim while he, in surprise, attempts to understand his fate, still finding it incredible.

2. Giovanni Martinelli (1600 ou 1604-1659)
Death at the Old Miser’s Table, c. 1638
Oil on canvas - 102 x 126.5 cm
Private collection
Photo : D. R. (domaine public)
Photo : Galerie G. Sarti

The title selected for the catalogue of the Giovanni Martinelli exhibition in 2011 [1], La Morte al tavolo dei giovani is even more explicit than the one adopted in French (Death Invites itself to the Banquet or Death Comes to the Table). While Caravaggesque scenes, from the art of Bartolomeo Manfredi, in which the figures celebrate around a table often depict old men who might have been shown here living out their last hours, in this case we see young persons who are not expecting the arrival of death. The lesson on the brevity of life is made all the more striking. Another Martinelli painting, which recently resurfaced, was published in the catalogue mentioned above and represents Death at the Old Miser’s Table (or the Usurer) (ill. 2). Here, Death comes to claim an older man imbuing the painting with stronger moral overtones as it concerns a miser still clinging to his gold pile although he has only a few moments left to live.

3. After Giovanni Martinelli (1600 or 1604-1659)
Death Comes to the Table
Oil on canvas - 110.5 x 144 cm
Saint-Denis de La Réunion, Musée Léon Dierx
Photo : Musée Léon Dierx

Addendum (7/3/14) : Bernard Leveneur, director of the Musée Léon Dierx at Saint Denis de La Réunion, whom we would like to thank, after having read the above article, forwarded a photograph of an unrestored painting acquired by the museum from the Marcus gallery in 1969, probably a period copy of the Giovanni Martinelli work (ill. 3).

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 3 mars 2014


[1] Giovanni Martinelli pittore di Montevarchi. Maestro del Seicento fiorentino, Montevarchi, Auditorium Comunale, 19 March to 19 June 2011.

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