L’Œil gourmand. A Journey through Neapolitan Still Life of the 17th century.

1. Paolo Porpora (1617-1673)
Still life with Mullet, Scorpion Fish, Weever, Two Shells and a Medallion
Oil on canvas - 48 x 74 cm
Private collection

There has not been an exhibition of XVIIthC. Italian paintings on the Parisian cultural scene for quite some time. Thus we are all the more delighted with the remarkable retrospective of Neapolitan still lifes organized by the Canesso Gallery. The works come from private collections (many of them had been shown at the gallery, some still belong to it) or Italian museums. They represent a comprehensive survey, worthy of the finest museum, and constitute a rare opportunity to discover this art.

2. Giovan Battista Ruoppolo (1629-1693)
Vine Branches with Grapes,
Pomegranates, Figs, Lemons, Apples, Watermelon
and Melons, and a Pot of Narcissus

Oil on canvas - 177 x 226 cm
Private collection

Although profoundly original, the evolution of Neapolitan still lifes is found in other European centers as well : those of the first half of the XVIIth C. present a rather sober layout - the objects are lined up, on a single plane, as for example in Still life with mullet, scorpion fish, weever, two shells and a medallion by Paolo Porpora (ill. 1) - a style which progressively drowns itself in the abundance and exuberance typical of the Baroque [1] found for instance in the canvases by Giuseppe et Giovan Battista Ruoppolo. Two overflowing heaps of fruit, face each other in the main room, reflecting this evolution (ill. 2). But, as there is always an exception, the first entry in the catalogue, ascribed to a painter who until now was known only from occasional references, Giacomo Coppola, purportedly active between 1650-1660 due to his luxuriant compositions, would now seem to date back to around 1610…

3. Paolo Cattamara (avant 1675)
Forest Floor with Tortoises and Butterflies
Oil on canvas - 35 x 42,5 cm
Private collection

4. Paolo Porpora
Cabbage Roses, Shells, Tortoises, and Butterfly in a Landscape
Oil on canvas - 73 x 130 cm
Private collection

Unlike other schools, however, no hidden meaning is to be found in these paintings, except on rare occasions. No allegories of the transience of life here, nor any allegorical representations [2] either, just the pure pleasure of painting for painting’s sake. Giovanni Battista Recco illustrated essentially fish, seafood and shellfish, and one can admire here a large canvas clearly signed and dated 1653, providing a factual reference in the recent reconstitution of his work. Along with the similarity in subjects and styles, another difficulty is often present : some of the paintings are signed only with a monogram, so G. B. R. can correspond to Giovanni Battistat Recco or Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo. Telling Paolo Cattamara apart from the better-known Paolo Porpora can also be a complex undertaking as shown in the troubling Forest floor with tortoises and butterflies (ill. 3) which displays all the stylistic characteristics of the latter and which is nevertheless by Cattamara (both probably inspired by the work of the Dutch artist Otto Marseus van Schriek). Nicola Spinosa, in his introductory essay, emphasizes that it is probable that some paintings which are today acknowledged as being by Porpora are, in fact, by Cattamara. A magnificent canvas by Porpora (ill. 4), undoubtedly the most attractive of all these painters, was on show at the last Maastricht fair and immediately sold to its current private owner. Another essay points out that the Neapolitan still life, especially in the first half of the XVIIth C., remains relatively unknown and it is interesting to note that the authors of the catalogue do not always agree on certain questions : thus, Véronique Damian states that Porpora’s specialization in representing fish is “well documented by De Dominici [3] (p. 50)” whereas a little further, Claudia Salvi writes that “Moreover, the hypothesis that the young Porpora painted fish rests on fragile evidence.” (p. 80).

5. Andrea Belvedere
Morning Glories and Quelder Roses by Water ’s Edge
Oil on canvas - 100 x 74 cm
Naples, Museo di Capodimonte

The exhibition ends with a masterpiece by Andrea Belvedere, an exceptional loan by the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte (ill. 4). The work is from the last years of the Seicento, which witnessed the end of a golden age of the Neapolitan still life.

The beautiful and scholarly catalogue published in English [4] under the direction of Véronique Damian, signed notably by several Italian specialists will definitely become a reference work, the only regret being the absence of a complete historical background for each entry. The profits from the sale of the book will go towards the restoration of paintings and frames at the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte.

Véronique Damian (ed.), A Journey through Neapolitan Still Life of the 17th century, Galerie Canesso, 143 p, 30 €. ISBN : 978-2-9529848-1-2 (French edition ISBN : 978-2-9529848-0-5 ; Italian edition ISBN : 978- 2-9529848-2-9)


Didier Rykner, vendredi 28 septembre 2007


Visitor information : Paris, Galerie Canesso, 26, rue Laffitte, 75009 Paris. Phone : 01 40 22 61 71. Daily (closed Sunday) 11am - 7 pm. Free admission.


[1] ”Its piled-up aspect and the multi-level jumble of objects [neglectfully set on the floor in the foreground] fails to follow any hierarchy” writes Véronique Damian in reference to a painting by Giovan Battista Recco (p. 44) ; this description is a good definition of the characteristics of Baroque still lifes.

[2] And yet we would like to bring to mind here The Five Senses by Giuseppe Recco (cat. 29).

[3] De Dominici is the author of a biography of Neapolitan artists : Bernardo De Dominici, Vite de pittori, scultori ed architetti napoletani, 3 vol., Naples, 1742-1745. An edition by F. Sricchia Santoro and A. Zezza is in progress, the first volume having appeared in 2003 ; the second, which contains the biographies of still-life painters, has not yet been published.

[4] It is also published in French and Italian.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in Exhibitions : The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection : Renaissance & Baroque

Next article in Exhibitions : Nicolaes Berchem. Im Licht Italiens