There is, quite rightly, a lot of fuss in London at the moment over the National Gallery’s show on Barocci touted as “the most important painter youve never heard of.” Sadly this is still the case for so many female artists of the Renaissance and Baroque era who rarely make it into the history books despite being feted in their time. (There are depressingly few in London’s National Gallery: no Artemesia Gentileschi, no Lavinia Fontana, no Sofonisba Anguissola and so on….)

One of my favourites is Milanese artist Fede Galizia (1578-1630) who was trained by her miniaturist father and was already considered a skilled artist by the age of 12. Ignore the inscription in her Portrait of Paolo Morigia (1592-95, oil on canvas, 88 x 79 cm,Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan) it was a later addition, but focus on the hand and the bravura

Fede Galizia Portrait of Paolo Morigia painting visible in this detail: note how the room is reflected in the glass? DetailDid Caravaggio see her work I wonder? Certainly Morigia was so impressed with his portrait he went on to become Galizia’s patron.

Though she made many portraits, two thirds of her catalogued paintings are still lives and she popularised the genre in Italy. Her works are typically small scale like this White Ceramic Bowl with Peaches and Red and Blue Plums (c. 1610, oil on panel, 30 x 42 cm, Silvano Lodi Collection, Campione). They may not have the complex symbolism of Dutch Golden Age paintings but they are superb at evoking textures – the softness of the peaches, the wisp of a leaf, the hard edges of the ceramic bowl – and are incredibly sensuous.

cer_bowlIt’s the same with this stunning still-life (1607, Oil on panel, 31 x 42 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). It is tiny but with so much attention to detail. See how that apple is turning brown as it’s exposed to the air?

Still-Life, 1607Or this one (nd, Oil on panel, 28 x 42 cm, Private collection) where a succulent cherry is about to drop from the bowl, every bit as animate as the butterfly in mid-flight.

stillifeThe composition so balanced that your gaze flits from one side to the other, caught in the tension of the moment.

One thought on “Still Lives to Die For

  1. If you’ve ever painted,, you can appreciate so much more about these paintings, such as the positioning of the hands, with the thumb foreshortened. I like that she didn’t avoid blemishes on the fruit. And the face, not glamorous, is much more interesting to paint because it has character. Exquisite paintings in all their performance.

    I’m glad that women who accomplished great things in the past can be rediscovered.

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