This striking Basket of Fruit may be recognised as an unpublished and highly significant achievement by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi in the field of independent still life painting. For several years I have been developing the hypothesis that this artist from Viterbo painted works without figures, and that he was the author of part of the oeuvre currently attributed to the anonymous artist known as the Master of the Acquavella Still Life. Cavarozzi should therefore be regarded as the greatest author of nature morte in the circle of Caravaggio, and as the one who was to develop these stimuli during the 1610s and 1620s, following the prototype established by the Lombard painter in the celebrated Basket of Fruit in the Ambrosiana Gallery, Milan, and in the basket placed on the table in the Mattei Supper at Emmaus, now in the National Gallery in London. Recent scholarship, beginning with an essay of 1996 and others I have written on this aspect of Cavarozzi’s career, has revealed his sensational skills in this field, and it must be to these that Giulio Mancini referred when he wrote of Cavarozzi as “universale di tutte le cose e con tutti i modi di operare” (“skilled in painting anything, and in all manner of work”). In 2015, supporting the recognition of Cavarozzi as a painter of independent still life, I drew attention to an important archival document first published by Luigi Spezzaferro. On 2 March 1613, in the Libro Mastro (account book) of the Altemps family, Prospero Orsi was paid 40 scudi, “e sono per doi quadri de frutti, uno del Caravaggio e l’altro di Bartolomeo” (“for two pictures of fruit, one by Caravaggio and the other by Bartolomeo”); Spezzaferro imagined that the second painter must be Cavarozzi. The discovery of documents of 1613 and 1614 by Patrizia Cavazzini, showing ties between Orsi e Cavarozzi – who both happen to be from Viterbo – further corroborates the possibility that the Bartolomeo cited here was indeed Cavarozzi. Likewise, the 1613 document would indicate important evidence for dating Cavarozzi’s interest in still life as a subject in its own right. The pairing with the other picture of fruit acquired by Prospero Orsi – the one ascribed to Caravaggio – suggests that the canvas by “Bartolomeo” was naturalistic in appearance; moreover, I suspect that the painting described as by Caravaggio might have been executed by Bartolomeo, and that Orsi was well aware of this when he sold it. The reader is referred to my monograph for further reflections on this subject: it may be that the exalted quality of paintings by Cavarozzi could have been considered on a level with those by Caravaggio, or by a newly reborn Caravaggio (and thus potentially sellable as by him). The discovery of a beautiful Still Life, offered by Colnaghi at TEFAF Maastricht in 2017, clearly confirmed what I had hypothesised for some time. Later that year, at TEFAF New York, again with Colnaghi, I had occasion to study a Still life with grapes, figs, apples, melons, and pomegranates on a stand, painted on copper, which I attributed to the fairly advanced stage of Cavarozzi’s career, at the beginning of the 1620s. The beautiful Still life before us relates to the latter work, both in the arrangement of the fruit within its support (here almost entirely filled) and in the placement in the immediate foreground of the basket and stand, respectively. Likewise, we find certain details with the same brushwork, such as the vine leaf emerging behind the melon in the Still life with fruit on a stand, painted with the same perfect handling and the same effects of silvered reflections as in our vine leaf. As for the type of fruits arranged here (grapes, melon, pomegranates, apples), we find them again not only in the oil on copper but in other still lifes I believe were painted by Cavarozzi: the picture with Colnaghi (TEFAF Maastricht, 2017), the so-called Acquavella Still Life and above all the Sangalli Still Life. This last work has a very similar design in the weave of the basket, and in how this is described with parallel brushstrokes, as well as in the way the bunches of grapes hang over the edge of the basket in the foreground. Also very similar is the sumptuous arrangement of fruit on three levels, with the apples and the pomegranate in the background precariously balanced on the fruits below, precisely as in the Sangalli Still Life. Finally, the depiction of the melon and pomegranate, burst open with the seeds and pulp clearly visible, closely resembles that of a Still life with a viol player formerly in a private collection in Udine (current location unknown). Needless to say it would be problematic to attempt to establish a secure chronology for this Still life and others by Cavarozzi; yet one may hazard a guess that our picture and the copper mentioned above were painted during the artist’s maturity, in the 1620s.
- Véronique Damian, Sweerts, Tanzio, Magnasco et autres protagonistes du Seicento italien, Paris, Galerie Canesso, 2009, pp. 18-21;
- Franco Paliaga, in L’origine della Natura Morta in Italia. Caravaggio e il Maestro di Hartford, Anna Coliva – Davide Dotti (ed.), exh. cat., Rome, Galleria Borghese, 16 November 2016 – 12 March 2017, pp. 246-247, n. 32.
L'origine della Natura Morta in italia. Caravaggio e il Maestro di Hartford, exh. cat., Rome, Galleria Borghese, 16 November 2016 - 12 March 2017