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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 7 Sep. 2023 – 4 Oct. 2023

Revelations: Three Bouquets of Flowers, Spanish School

Timeless and fragrant, the bouquets are composed of flowers that do not bloom at the same time. In a mixed arrangement we find late-winter hollyhocks, spring daffodils and tulips, May lilies, lilies of the valley, peonies, June roses, carnations, dahlias and jasmine. In the bouquet on the left of the painting there are some flowers that achieved the depicted look with the help of the painter's imagination.

The type of bouquets, the shaping of the flowers, the presence of insects and birds all point to an inspiration from Italian floral still-lifes of the first quarter of the 17th century. Despite the Italian source, the overall impression of the painting and some of the details suggest the Spanish school. Although the painter is unknown and the style is not sufficiently distinctive to be associated with any known painter, it can be seen that it is in many ways reminiscent of the still lifes of Juan van der Hamen y Léon (1596–1631) and Pedro de Camprobín (1605–1674). The still life stands out for its dramatic lighting and the detailed subjects painted. The artist's confident use of chiaroscuro allows for powerful contrasts of light and dark, with darkness becoming the dominant feature of the painting, revealing the direct influence of the Tenebrist Baroque. The technique was developed to add drama and is common in Spanish Baroque paintings, and this still life presents formal characteristics that still correspond to the transition between the naturalism of the early 17th century and the full-blown Baroque of the second half of this century.

The still life itself did not become an important genre of painting until the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when it appeared more or less simultaneously in the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Particularly with the revolutionary works of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), painted objects became imbued with meaning, and their representation and arrangement the subject of serious artistic judgement. Caravaggio declared that it was as difficult to paint a still life as to paint figures. His famous still-life from the late 16th century, in which he depicted fruit in a wicker basket in a naturalistic manner, aroused such admiration and imitation that at least one element, namely the wicker basket, appears regularly in his imitators from the Roman and Neapolitan schools of painting. Caravaggio is rightly considered the father of Roman still life, a genre in its infancy at the beginning of the 17th century, but far-reaching in its influence on the Neapolitan school. In the early 17th century, Caravaggio lived and worked briefly in Naples, then the second largest city in Europe after Paris. The Kingdom of Naples was at that time a Spanish colony, which allowed a direct exchange of the latest developments in painting.

In Spain, Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560–1627), a contemporary of Caravaggio, painted naturalistically detailed images of fruit, vegetables and a few flowers in front of a completely black background in stone frames, with a surrealist touch to the whole composition. In a slightly different vein, the great artist Juan van der Hamen y Léon favoured subjects that suited the taste of his cosmopolitan clientele in the court circles of Madrid. He filled his compositions with exotic flowers, cakes and imported ceramic vessels and Venetian glass. His work is characterised by brilliant clarity of execution, purity of design and refined attention to detail. The painter's greatest contribution to Spanish Baroque art was his departure from the established symmetrical still-lifes in window frames to a new, asymmetrical format in which objects are painted on stone steps and pedestals of varying lengths and heights.

Spain was still the leading power in Europe at this time and, because of its political and economic importance, was in constant contact with other European powers such as the Italian states, France and the Netherlands, resulting in direct exchange of contemporary trends in painting.

In this environment, politically neutral still lifes developed rapidly in style and subject matter, as they were often commissioned by wealthy clients for the interior decoration of their mansions. Still lifes also made for excellent gifts.

Jassmina Marijan

Presented: Thursday, 7 September, 6 p.m

7 September – 4 October 2023
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana