MASTER OF THE ACQUAVELLA STILL LIFE (active in Rome, circa 1615 - 1640)

In studying the pair, the viewer is immediately drawn to the exuberant fruit bathed in Caravaggesque light. In one canvas, the fruits cascade over a Roman plinth decorated with classical reliefs,  whilst in another, fruits are held by a large wicker basket, with a wide handle and a dark border: this rustic type is represented in at least thirty Roman still-life paintings of the first half of the seventeenth century. The present works in Lampronti’s collection serve as one of the earliest examples of this genre, and are dated to around 1620/25. The pair demonstrates a close adhesion to Pietro Paolo Bonzi, and echo the vegetal arrangements assigned to Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Michelangelo del Campidoglio. The painting’s uniqueness is founded on the artist’s realistic treatment of the leaves, where as in more conventional works of this genre fruit and flowers received greater attention in order to achieve a more appealing appearance.

In a letter written in May of 1998, Federico Zeri attributed the pair to the anonymous artist who owes his name to the Still Life of flowers and fruits, previously in the ownership of the Aquavella Gallery in New York[1]. The following attribution has led to the identification of a small body of works under the name of the Master of Aquavella Still Life. Prior to the current attribution, scholars affiliated these works with several other still life painters, namely an anonymous Neapolitan master, Angelo Caroselli and Pietro Paolini. [2]  More recently however, Gianni Papi has attempted to identify him with Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, a Viterbese Caravaggist whom in this case would have painted the youthful boy in Still life with peaches, a wicker basket and a boy[3]. Yet the alert figure depicted in this painting differs from surviving examples by Cavarozzi, and the association between the group and this artist is thus subject to debate.[4]

The current attribution is indeed what Zeri concluded in the same letter in which he compared Lampronti’s paintings to a work owned by the art dealer Fritz Mont in New York , and to a Still life of fruit in a glass basin, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Inv. 59,193). Zeri argued that these works initally belonged to an old noble Italian collection but were in an English collection by 1880.

Andrea G. De Marchi

[1] F. Zeri, written communication, 27 May 1998.

[2] C. Volpe, catalogue entry, in La natura morta italiana, exh. cat., S. Bottari, F. Battagli, B. Molajoli (eds.) (Milan, 1964), p. 32, pl. 12a; C. Volpe, Una proposta per Giovanni Battista Crescenzi in “Paragone” n. 24, 1973, 275, 25-36; F. Bologna, Natura in posa. Aspetti dell’antica natura morta italiana, exh. cat. (Milan, 1968), pl. 20; L. Salerno, La natura morta italiana. 1560-1805 (Rome, 1984), pp. 84-89.

[3] G. Papi, Riflessioni sul percorso caravaggesco di Bartolomeo Cavarozzi in “Paragone”, 5-6-7, 551, 553, 555, 1996, pp. 89, 90-91.

[4] This proposition was at odds with the previous theory advanced by Volpe – upheld by Marini and then accepted by many – that divided the two artists but suggested the idea of a collaboration between them, assigning the figures in the Supper at Emmaus in the Getty Museum and the Aminta’s Lament in a private collection to Cavarozzi (M. Marini, ‘Caravaggio e il naturalismo internazionale’, in Storia dell’arte italiana (1979-1983), 1981, VI.1, p. 392).

a. Still life with apples, pears and peaches on a plinth with classical motifs

b. Still life with peaches in a wicker basket and a boy

A pair, oil on canvas, 95 x 128 cm each

Private collection, Rome, by 1880, when acquired by an English collector.

Federico Zeri, 27 May 1998.

 Nature in the Spotlight, European Still life 1600-1700, exh. cat. ed. by V. Rossi and A. Hilliam, exhibition Lampronti Gallery, London, 4-11 July,  Rome 2014, pp.18-19; Lights and Shadows: Caravaggism in Europe, exh. cat. ed. by V. Rossi and M. di Martino, exhibition Lampronti Gallery, London, 29 June - 31 July 2015, pp.10-11.