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Spanish Still Life from Velazquez to Goya.

Originally published for an exhibition in 1995 at the National Gallery, London, this is the first major study in English of Spanish still life painting. Reproductions of the 69 exhibited paintings are supplemented by illustrations of 154 other works, including many published for the first time.

The first chapter reviews the origins and functions of still life in Spain. The authors emphasize the importance of humanism, which fostered interest in the mimesis praised by ancient writers. The second chapter discusses the pivotal role of Sanchez Cotan, who produced austere but monumental paintings of ordinary fruits and vegetables in Toledo, c. 1585-1603. The third chapter on Velazquez's bodegones summarizes recent scholarship.

The fourth chapter on still life in Madrid during the early seventeenth century focuses on Van der Hamen, whose paintings of luxurious objects appealed to wealthy collectors. A reasonable chronology is established, and his innovations are clarified. The fifth chapter reconstructs the careers of less well known artists catering to middle class collectors in Madrid during the 1630s. Also analyzed is the patronage of Sir Arthur Hopton, an English diplomat, and Crescenzi, a Roman architect. The sixth chapter reviews later seventeenth-century artists in Madrid, such as Pereda, who popularized Vanitas paintings with figures. The many new attributions include the assignment of Dream of the Knight, previously considered Pereda's masterpiece, to Palacios (known for softly lit paintings of foodstuffs).

The seventh chapter on Seville maintains that independent still lifes became popular there only in the mid-seventeenth century. The authors define the work of the two leading specialists - Juan de Zurbaran (sensuous, theatrical compositions with accidental details) and Camprobin (delicate, intimate paintings of foodstuffs). The treatment of Velazquez in a separate section unfortunately limits analysis of his interaction with contemporaries.

The eighth chapter on still life in Valencia focuses on Hiepes, a prolific, archaic painter (active 1642-74), whose style is distinguished from that of a follower, identified as "Pseudo-Hiepes." The ninth chapter traces the development of the Late Baroque school of flower painting in Madrid. The commission given to Bartolome Perez for fifty-four gilded floral panels for the bedchamber of Charles II demonstrates the prestige of the genre.

The tenth chapter reviews the decline of still life painting at the end of the Golden Age, while the eleventh chapter analyzes its revival with the encouragement of the Royal Academy, founded in 1752. Melendez, the most outstanding still life painter of the era, was excluded from the Academy, but his monumental, classicizing compositions accord with its precepts. He revived the humble subjects of Sanchez Cotan but made several innovations (low vantage points, close-up views, etc.). The twelfth chapter discusses the school of flower painting fostered by the Academy of San Carlos in Valencia during the late eighteenth century.

The book ends on a dramatic note with a study of Goya's still lifes (c. 1808-12), which transformed dead birds, animals, and fish into the still life equivalents of the victims of the Disasters of War.

It is to be regretted that the authors did not provide a concluding chapter, synthesizing their ideas and assessing the place of Spanish still life within the general history of European painting. Nevertheless, this book undoubtedly will become a standard reference source. The many contributions include the reconstruction of careers of less well known painters, new information on famous artists, and analysis of patterns of marketing and collecting. Discussions of attribution problems provide models of sensitive connoisseurship. The authors' evident love of their subject literally makes their discussions of "dead objects" come alive.

RICHARD G. MANN San Francisco State University
COPYRIGHT 1997 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Mann, Richard G.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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