A Recent Addition to “The World Stage: Brazil”

Kehinde Wiley, "Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Oil on canvas.

Kehinde Wiley, “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017. Oil on canvas. Photo taken by the author

Last month I visited the Portland Art Museum and saw a painting by Kehinde Wiley that I hadn’t seen before. This painting is currently on display as a loan from the collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer, major philanthropists in the area (Harold passed away in 2011). I already was familiar with Wiley’s series called The World Stage that feature people from countries around the world, but I wasn’t familiar with this one that comes from the Brazil installment of The World Stage. And as I’ve studied this work, I realized that this painting was made fairly recently, in 2017, almost ten years after the initial series was begun and exhibited. The painting isn’t listed as part of Wiley’s Brazil series, and I wonder why Wiley decided to create this painting so much later. Did he have all of the source material and photos of the model from before, but simply ran out of time to start this painting until almost a decade later?

Wiley began this project through a residency in Rio de Janeiro in March 2008 and exhibited the installation in 2009. At the time, a short book was published with two essays and images of the exhibition painting, and similar books were produced for other installments of The World Stage. The exhibition aimed to draw attention to issues of Afro-Brazilian identity and the complex and problematic social issues created due to the history of slavery and colonialism in Brazil. As a result, Wiley’s Afro-Brazilian figures are positioned in compositions that are reminiscent of famous paintings and monuments in Brazilian culture. Here are a few examples:

  • Wiley’s painting “Omen Negro (Black Man)” refers to a watercolor by the German artist Zacharias Wagener (who was in Brazil when the Dutch were there). Ironically, Wagener’s watercolor is actually a copy of another painting titled “African Man” by Albert Eckhout, so there are multiply layers of copying and appropriation that are taking place. Furthermore, the title of this work seems have layers of appropriation and inadvertent spelling corruption: Wiley’s phrase “Omen Negro” is a corruption of Wagener’s title “Omem Negro,” which itself is a corruption of the accurate Portuguese phrase “homem negro” (“black man”).
  • Wiley’s painting “Marechal Floriano Peixoto” copies the composition of a monument in Cindelândia’s public square in Rio de Janiero. The monument honors the second president of the Republic, Floriano Peixoto, but these two particular figures represent the indigenous people of Brazil. The inclusion of these active, strong figures and their composition alludes to the colonial presence in Brazil and the subjugation of the native presence by the Portuguese. Other allegorical figures in the monument recognize the African, Portuguese, and Catholic aspects of Brazilian history.
  • Wiley’s “Alegoria a Lei do Ventre Livre” is inspired by a gesso sculpture by A. D. Bressae of the same title. Kimberly Cleveland explains that this allegorical figure is an reference to the 1871 law which declared that the children who were born to slave parents would be free. She writes, “The irony of this law is suggested in the less-than-enthusiastic expression of Wiley’s model,” but absent from the original, nineteenth-century sculpture” of a smiling boy.1
  • Wiley has multiple paintings (see one, two and three) dedicated to Alberto Santos Dumont, an innovator in aviation. The compositions for these paintings come from a monument honoring Dumont, located outside of the Dumont airport in Rio.

The influence of Brazilian monuments on the composition brings me back to the new Kehinde Wiley addition to this series: this 2017 painting is inspired by a monument of Cuauhtemoc that is located in the Parque do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro.

Left: Kehinde Wiley, "Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Right: Monument to the Indio Cuauhtemoc in Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Left: Kehinde Wiley, “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017 (photo taken by the author). Right: Monument to the Indio Cuauhtemoc in Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy Wikipedia

The monument itself is a bizarre connection to Brazil, because is quite oblique. The statue is in Brazil because it was a gift from Mexico in 1922, to recognize the 100th anniversary of the Brazilians’ independence from Portugal in 1822. The statue depicts Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor, who ruled between 1520-1521 and then was executed by the Spanish. Perhaps there is a loose parallel between the end of an indigenous empire and the end of a colonial period, but it is a little bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, the sculpture is seen as a symbol of friendship between Mexico and Brazil.

By assuming the same composition as the Cuauhtemoc sculpture in Brazil, which is itself a copy of an original 1887 sculpture by Miguel Noreña in Mexico City, Wiley’s painting continues to add layers of appropriation and meaning. One theme is of connections and friendships between countries, since Wiley, as an American painter, took temporary residence in Brazil and painted Brazilian subjects. By depicting an Afro-Brazilian model, Wiley also touches on colonial history and those who were conquered and subjugated by Europeans, Africans and Aztecs alike.

Kehinde Wiley, detail of "Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Oil on canvas

Kehinde Wiley, detail of “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017. Oil on canvas. Photo taken by the author

Kehinde Wiley, detail of "Indio Cuauhtemoc-The World Stage, Brazil," 2017. Oil on canvas

Kehinde Wiley, detail of “Indio Cuauhtemoc: The World Stage, Brazil,” 2017. Oil on canvas. Photo taken by the author

The casual clothing of Wiley’s subject allude to commodifications by referencing popular (American) fashion and culture. In addition, the bright colors and thriving flowers also connect to Western commodification, suggesting how “the exotic” is a Western construct that has been fetishized and desired. The inspiration for at least one backgrounds in the series came from textiles found at the Sahara market in Rio, and perhaps this design may have been found in a similar place.2 I noticed that Wiley used this same floral background in a study for a painting called “Sidney da Rodra, Jr.” (2008), but it doesn’t appear in the final version, and a detailed image of this same floral background appears as an unlabeled plate at the beginning of the World Series: Brazil book.So Wiley was thinking about this background during this project and studying it, even though this painting wasn’t made (or perhaps finished?) until 2017.

The layered appearance of human figures and decorative patterns in Wiley’s paintings are an appropriate visual reminder of the layers of meaning and appropriation. Typically, Wiley’s paintings have a few elements from the background which extend out of their pattern to partially cover the clothing of the subject. This can be seen best on the t-shirt and the shorts of the “Indio Cuauhtemoc” figure by Wiley, which are partially covered with flowers. Such layers remind us that, despite the real life issues that Wiley addresses, he has presented them to us in a fictive environment to remind us that all the world is a stage and his “streetcast” models are actors.

1 Kimberly Cleveland, “Kehinde Wiley’s Brazil: The Past Against the Future” in Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Brazil by Kehinde Wiley (Roberts & Tilton, 2009), 26.

2 Kehinde Wiley, Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Brazil (Roberts & Tilton, 2009), 12.

3 Ibid., 4, 45.

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Queen Victoria’s Taste in Art

Frans Xaver Winterhalter, "Queen Victoria and Her Cousin, the Duchess of Nemours" (1852). Oil on canvas, 26.2" x 20", Royal Collection.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, “Queen Victoria and Victoire, the Duchess of Nemours” (1852). Oil on canvas, 26.2″ x 20″, Royal Collection.

These past few months I have been delving into the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris, largely due to the Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement  traveling exhibition that is in Seattle. I recently was asked what Queen Victoria, a supporter of the arts and an artist herself, would have thought of the Pre-Raphaelites. She definitely had an awareness of the movement (which I will discuss later), but her aesthetic preference seemed to veer more toward a more academic style, not only for public commissions but even private ones. Here are some of the contemporary painters whom she commissioned for portraits or purchased art from:

  • Sir George Hayter was appointed principal painter to Queen Victoria and also drawing teacher for the princesses. Hayter painted Victoria in a portrait that was made between c. 1838-1840. He was knighted in 1842, and he also didn’t receive any royal commissions after this year as Victoria turned her interest to Winterhalter and Landseer’s paintings.
  • Franz Xaver Winterhalter was one of Queen Victoria’s favorite painters. He made several official portraits for Queen Victoria, but he also made a private portrait (described as Albert’s favorite painting of his wife), and other portraits that included family members like her cousin, such as Queen Victoria and Victoire,  the Duchess of Nemours (1852, shown above)
  • Edwin Landseer also was commissioned to paint pictures of Victoria, her family members, and also her family pets. One such painting, Queen Victoria at Osborne, was commissioned to express and display her grief after Albert’s death. Landseer was so favored by Victoria that she even gave him a knighthood in 1850.
  • Alfred Edward Chalon was commissioned to make a portrait of Queen Victoria, and she appointed him to be a watercolorist for the royal house. One of his images became used for stamps of the queen.
  • Charles Robert Leslie painted an image of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes, and the queen said that she “like[d] the painting so much” that she bought it.

If you look at these art by these painters, particularly Winterhalter and Landseer (who both painted often for Victoria), it’s clear that she favored a traditional style of painting that included smoother brushstrokes and the color palette of the Academy (often, but not always, primary colors, which appropriately also fit with the red and blue colors of the Union Jack flag) .

John Everett Millais, "Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter's Shop)," 1849-50. Oil on Canvas, approx. 2.8' x 4.5'. Tate Museum

John Everett Millais, “Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop),” 1849-50. Oil on Canvas, approx. 2.8′ x 4.5′. Tate Museum

She was aware of the artistic scene in England outside of her own royal artists, though, including news about the Pre-Raphaelites. When John Everett Millais’ painting “Christ in the House of His Parents” was exhibited in the Royal Academy show of 1850 and viciously attacked in the press, the Queen was so curious that she asked to have the painting brought from Trafalgar Square to the palace so she could see it herself.1 The news of the queen’s request was conveyed to Millais, and he in turn wrote to his friend William Holman Hunt, in perhaps a mix of both jest and sincerity, “I hope it will not have any bad effects on her mind.” I have read one account that the Queen applauded Millais for his efforts with this painting, but I haven’t found it substantiated by a primary source (does anyone know of one?).

William Morris, VRI Wallpaper, 1887. Balmoral Castle

William Morris, VRI Wallpaper, 1887. Balmoral Castle

It is certain, however, that Queen Victoria did like the work of William Morris. In 1880, Morris created lavishly complex wallpaper for the Grand Staircase at Saint James’ Palace. Then in 1887, he was commissioned to create a unique wallpaper for Balmoral Castle which contained the cipher “VRI” (see example above). These projects helped to secure William Morris’ reputation and career.

Does anyone know of other instances in which Queen Victoria saw or commented on works of art by the Pre-Raphaelites (or William Morris, for that matter)? I know that the Queen prohibited Millais’ wife Effie from coming to court, due to her previous divorce from John Ruskin. Even when Millais received a baronetcy, Effie was banned from court. She was only received at an official function when Millais requested as much from the queen while on his deathbed.2 Interestingly, at some point her photograph also entered the Royal Collection, so now she keeps a continual presence with the royal family.

1 Charles Dickens was one of the critics who was appalled by this painting and its “loathsome minuteness” of style. He described the Christ child as ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown’ and said that his mother Mary looked “so hideous in her ugliness that … she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin-shop in England” (Household Words, 15 June 1850).

2 The anecdote of Millais deathbed request (“Yes, let her receive my wife”) is recorded by Suzanne Fagence Cooper in “Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin, and John Everett Millais,” p. 235-236. Found online here: https://books.google.com/books?id=vhlkCf-pbREC&lpg=PA236&ots=9deNRxw92x&dq=%22yes%20let%20her%20receive%20my%20wife%22&pg=PA235#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Vermeer’s Cupid Revealed!

Vermeer, "Girl at the Window," (with recent restoration revealing image of Cupid), c. 1658

Vermeer, “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window,” (with recent restoration revealing image of Cupid), c. 1658. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

Like many other art historians, I have been fascinated by the recent article in The Art Newspaper which announced that a hidden figure of Cupid has, though restoration work, become visible in Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an OpenWindow.  This image of Cupid has been known for about forty years due to x-ray scans, but it was thought to have been overpainted by Vermeer himself. However, new studies have revealed that the Cupid was painted out of the scene several decades after Vermeer had died.

This figure of Cupid is actually familiar to those familiar with Vermeer’s art: it also appears in another painting by Vermeer, A Lady Standing at a Virginal (1670, shown below). In fact, Vermeer placed Cupid in almost the same compositional place as Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.  Vermeer would often use similar props or compositional devices in his paintings, so the discovery of this new Cupid is consistent with what we have know about Vermeer’s work. There is even a “Cupid” item that is listed in Vermeer’s inventory, so he may have owned this painting himself.

Vermeer, "Lady Standing at a Virginal," 1670. National Gallery of Art, London

Vermeer, “Lady Standing at a Virginal,” 1670. National Gallery of Art, London

I have a strong hunch that the Cupid figure was taken out of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window in order to make it more salable. As an artist, Vermeer fell into obscurity after his death. Art dealers in the 18th and 19th centuries reattributed to his paintings to better known artists from the 17th century, likely due to lack of information, but it also undoubtedly in an effort to make more money.1 For example, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window was thought to be a painting by Rembrandt when it was acquired by the Elector of Saxony in 1742.It seems likely to me that the Cupid was painted out sometime before the Elector of Saxony purchased the painting, since Rembrandt often has muted, dark backgrounds that don’t include framed paintings of Cupids. It makes sense to me that a dealer might encourage the Cupid to be painted out, in order for the attribution to seem more plausible.

Perhaps this Cupid figure – despite being covered up with paint – has helped imbue this painting with a bit of luck over the centuries: Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window  was hidden for safekeeping during World War II and escaped destruction during the massive bombing of Dresden in 1945. Later that year the painting was seized by the Red Army and taken to Russia as booty. After the war, the Soviet Minister of Culture wanted to East Germany to keep this painting in Russia as a token of gratitude for Russian assistance, but the proposal was dropped and the painting returned to Dresden in 1955. I remember specifically going to the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden in August 2017 to see this painting, but I was disappointed to learn that it had been taken off of view for conservation purposes – my guess is that they already were working to clean this painting and reveal this Cupid figure back then.

Which Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window  do you prefer? The newly-restored version (shown at the top of the pose) or the overpainted version (shown below)? I have to admit, it will take a while for me to get used to the fact that this girl is no longer reading her letter “by herself” in visual isolation – there is another commanding figure in the room! Hopefully I’ll get more adjusted to the appearance over the next year; it is expected to take that long for all of the overpaint paint to be removed from the Cupid figure.

Vermeer, "Girl Reading a Letter at a Window," c. 1658

Vermeer, “Girl Reading a Letter at a Window,” c. 1658. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

1 The painting was also described as being “in the manner of Rembrandt” in 1747 and then in 1801 was described as the work of Rembrandt’s pupil Govaert Flinck. Between 1826-1860, the painting was attributed to the domestic painter Pieter de Hooch, with the correct attribution to Vermeer not appearing until 1862. For more information, see Arthur K. Wheelock, ed., Johannes Vermeer (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, 1995), 56-57. Available online here: https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/johannes-vermeer.pdf

2 For more information on art dealers and their effect on Vermeer’s posthumous reputation, see Emma Barker’s “The Making of a Canonical Artist: Vermeer” in The Changing Status of the Artist (Open University Press, 1999), 201-4. Limited preview available here: https://books.google.com/books?id=A_1Ady0GAuUC&lpg=PP1&dq=changing%20status%20of%20the%20artist&pg=PA204#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Fragonard and Morisot?

Berthe Morisot, "Reading (The Green Umbrella), 1873. Oil on fabric, 18 1/8 × 28 1/4 in. (46 × 71.8 cm). Cleveland Museum of Art

Berthe Morisot, “Reading (The Green Umbrella), 1873. Oil on fabric, 18 1/8 × 28 1/4 in. (46 × 71.8 cm). Cleveland Museum of Art

The post that you are reading is a very different one than the first one that I originally wrote this evening. I recently read in The Art of Reading: An Illustrated History of Books in Paint that Berthe Morisot was the descendant of the painter Jean-Honore Fragonard, and I hoped to write a post that explored that relationship between the two. However, as I researched, I found conflicting information about how Morisot was either the granddaughter of Fragonard, the great-niece of Fragonard, or the great-great-niece of Fragonard. So I began to comb through the genealogical timelines of the Morisot family and realized that I couldn’t find a clear ancestral connection between the artists at all. Dozens of sources claim that this connection comes through the family of Berthe’s mother, who was named Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas, although as of yet I can’t find the origin of this claim in writing. I can assert though, that Morisot is not the granddaughter of Fragonard: her paternal grandparents were Tiburce Pierre Morisot and Claude Elisabeth Morisot; her maternal grandparents were Jean Simon Joseph Thomas and Caroline Françoise Marie Mayniel.

Chronologically, it seems to be that Fragonard lived four generations before Morisot. Her only two great-grandparents that I know of (her grandmother’s parents, whose names were Jean Henri Mayniel and Josephine Anne Victoire de Ménard) were both born in 1760. That doesn’t go back far enough to meet up with Fragonard, who was born in 1732. Other branches of Berthe Morisot’s family line don’t seem to go back far enough, at least through online genealogical records. I finally found an archived excerpt of  Anne Higgonet’s 1995 book Berthe Morisot, which explains that “family tradition claims indirect descent from the painter Fragonard.” Is this actually just a “family tradition” then, but an unsubstantiated one? If that’s the case, we need to stop repeating it in scholarship or take Higgonet’s approach to explain the relationship has just been merely “claimed” or rumored through family tradition.

I can see how it is appealing to connect these two artists together. Fragonard painted many outdoor scenes that depicted aristocrats engaged in romantic or pleasurable pursuits. Likewise, Morisot painted plein air and often depicted members of the bourgeoisie. I also like thinking about how they both were drawn to the subject matter of a woman reading: Fragonard’s Woman Reading (c. 1776, shown below) was made almost exactly one hundred years before Morisot’s Reading (The Green Umbrella) from 1873 (shown above). It is also clear to see how Fragonard’s lively brushwork (especially seen in the fabric of the painting) helps to open the door for the loose, painterly strokes of the Impressionists like Morisot.

Fragonard, "A Young Girl Reading," c. 1776. Oil on canvas. National gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Fragonard, “A Young Girl Reading,” c. 1776. Oil on canvas. National gallery of Art, Washington, DC

One thing is certain: if Morisot was a descendant of Fragonard, she never met the artist. Fragonard died in 1806 and Morisot was born in 1841. The one thing that makes the ancestral connection believable in some regard is that Fragonard’s reputation and career fell into a decline during the end of his lifetime due to the upheaval of the French Revolution.1 He even remained relatively unknown for the first half of the 19th century and was even omitted from scholarship.2 So he would have seemed like an odd choice to claim kinship in the 19th century, unless the kinship either was actual or derived from family lore that began in the 18th century!

If you can fill in the genealogical record or add to the connection (or lack thereof) between Fragonard and Morisot, please share! I’m also curious to learn how this “family tradition” has been upheld in scholarship – who was the first to pen down this connection? Was it Berthe Morisot herself or it is in an Impressionist review? So far the earliest mention I have found is from 1904.

Regardless of the ancestral connection, I am particularly struck at how often this connection has been repeated in scholarship and publications. On one hand, it is a neat connection if it is true, simply to show how art was a familial pursuit. But I also wonder if this connection to Fragonard was also used to legitimize the contributions of a female artist in the male-dominated world of art.

1 Melissa Percival, Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination  (Routledge, 2017), p. 19. Found online here: https://books.google.com/books?id=lCgxDwAAQBAJ&lpg=PP19&ots=Ao2piIFUCW&dq=fragonard%20posthumous%20reputation&pg=PP19#v=onepage&q&f=false

2 Ibid.

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Crevelli’s Cucumbers, Christ, and Cotán

Carlo Crivelli, Madonna and Child, c. 1480 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Carlo Crivelli, Madonna and Child, c. 1480 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I am reading the most wonderful book right now, The Art of Reading: An Illustrated History of Books in Paint, which was just published last year. Thus far it has helped the post-holiday “January blues” to feel more manageable. This is a book that I wish I would have written myself. For the past few years, I have been less interested in the things that I studied in graduate school, and personally feel drawn to just looking at images of people reading books. I suppose these images serve as my escape, since I wish I had more quiet moments alone that I could spend reading for pleasure.

What caught my attention last night, though, was a tangential mention of a cucumber in the painting The Annunciation , with Saint  Emidius (1486, shown below) by the Venetian painter Carlo Crivelli.1 While books to appear in this painting (which ties into the purpose for its inclusion in my new book), I think the most striking thing is the cucumber that is prominently displayed in the foreground, balanced on a ledge and projecting toward the viewer.

Carlo Crivelli, "The Annunciation, with Saint Emidus," 1486 (National Gallery)

Carlo Crivelli, “The Annunciation, with Saint Emidus,” 1486 (National Gallery)

 

The book says that the cucumber is a symbol of resurrection and redemption, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art also supports this connection with redemption. An audio interview with food writer Gillian Riley, embedded on the National Gallery webpage for the painting, more generally says that the cucumber is a symbol for Christ.

But why would cucumbers be seen in this way? This definitely is not a common symbol in Renaissance art, or even Christian art for that matter. Crivelli used the motif often in his art, so much that it has been called his “signature motif.” So far, I’ve only found some amusing and snarky speculation. And I’m afraid this post is just more speculation. I wonder if this conclusion has been determined by the context that Crivelli creates within his paintings: the cucumber appears over the head of the dead Christ in Crivelli’s The Dead Christ With the Virgin, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene (shown below). In this painting, the angle of Christ’s limp head is has the same position and directional movement as the cucumber in the garland above, suggesting a visual and symbolic relationship between the two.

Crivelli, “The Dead Christ With the Virgin, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene,” 1485 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Crivelli, “The Dead Christ With the Virgin, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene,” 1485 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

In The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius  and Madonna and Child ( shown at the top of the post), the cucumber is placed next to one or more apples. The apple is commonly depicted as the Forbidden Fruit from the Garden of Eden, and therefore serves as a symbol of sin. Perhaps this context helps us to know that the cucumber, then, symbolically is a reversal of the apple.

The cucumber and the apple also have different shapes too, and I think it is also in the realm of possibility to think of them in gendered terms. The round apple has been connected with female breasts in the past (even within the context of the Forbidden Fruit and Eve).2 Perhaps the cucumber was intended to serve as a symbol of Christ in a very physical way. Perhaps Leo Steinberg would have liked this idea? I think that Elizabeth Honig might agree that the phallic connotations would have been possible, she noted something similar in sixteenth-century art, although admittedly for a Northern context.3

One thing that I would like to determine, though, is whether the seventeenth-century painter Juan Sánchez Cotán might have somehow been influenced by Crivelli’s composition. Cotán’s still life that includes a cucumber has a very similar composition to Crivelli’s one in the Annunciation, with both of the cucumbers placed right in the foreground on a ledge. Both paintings also have a similar interest in illusionism with a strong shadow that falls to the right.

Carlo Crivelli, Detail of cucumber and apple from "The Annunciation, with Saint Emidus," 1486 (National Gallery)

Carlo Crivelli, Detail of cucumber and apple from “The Annunciation, with Saint Emidus,” 1486 (National Gallery)

Juan Sánchez Cotán, "Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber," 1602, oil on canvas, 68.9 cm x 84.5 cm (San Diego Museum of Art)

Juan Sánchez Cotán, “Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber,” 1602, oil on canvas, 68.9 cm x 84.5 cm (San Diego Museum of Art)

Could it be that the Hapsburg Spanish presence in Italy somehow allowed for knowledge of Crivelli’s art to reach Cotán in Spain? Perhaps it is a stretch, but it would be interesting if a connection could be made! Any ideas? It is interesting to think about the cucumber and resurrection in this context too, since the other fruits and vegetables positioned in a way to suggest ascension and descension, depending on the direction the viewer’s eye moves horizontally across the picture plane.

Does anyone else have thoughts on cucumbers in art? When I first read about cucumbers as a symbol of resurrection, I jokingly wrote on Twitter that I hoped it was because the cucumber descends into a tomb of brine and re-emerges with a new life as a pickle. Alas, it doesn’t look like that is the case!

1 Jamie Camplin and Maria Ranauro,The Art of Reading: An Illustrated History of Books in Paint (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2018), p. 26

2 I’m specifically thinking of the Hildesheim doors, in which even holds an apple from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil over her chest, as if it is a breast. This is discussed in Adam S. Cohen and Anne Derbes, “Bernward and Eve at Hildesheim,” Gesta (vol. 40, no 1): 2001, 24.

3 Elizabeth Honig, Painting and the Market in Early Modern Antwerp (Yale University Press, 1999), 43.

 

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.