Cotán’s Bodegónes

Juan Sánchez Cotán-Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber-1600-1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber-1600-1602

Towards the end of his highly successful secular career as a painter in Toledo, Juan Sánchez Cotán turned towards the Spanish still-life tradition of Bodegónes (a painting of the contents of a larder or pantry), and in doing so created some of the most memorable and mysterious still-lifes in the history of art.

In marked contrast to the still-lifes of the Nederlands and Italy with their tables replete and overladen with all manner of  extravagant, expensive delicacies,  Sánchez Cotán’s paintings are austere, almost severe. The objects portrayed are limited in number and are of a humble everydayness. They are either perched on bare grey ledges or hanging from strings (a method prevalent at the time to stop food from rotting and out of reach of pests), without a beginning that we can see, and set against a stunning use of negative space, an intimate almost mystical velvety blackness. None of the objects touch or intersect, they retain their own unique distinctiveness in space. The positioning is geometric, especially the perfect parabolic curve described by Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, rendering the paintings almost abstract in spite of the baroque realism that verges on illusionism. This is still-life as an aid to the contemplation of God’s glory in all his works, especially the mundane and frequently overlooked.

In 1603 Sánchez Cotán closed up his Toledo workshop and renounced the world to join the Carthusians, a monastical order with a strong commitment to solitude and silence.

Juan Sánchez Cotán is believed to have painted 12 still-lifes in total, however only 7 have survived to the present day. Above and below are six works that represent bodegónes perfected by this master.

Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still-Life with Game Fowl ca 1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still-Life with Game Fowl ca 1600-1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still life with vegetables, flowers and a basket of cherries
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still life with vegetables, flowers and a basket of cherries
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still Life with Game,Vegetable and Fruit-1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still Life with Game,Vegetables and Fruit-1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still-life with Cardoon ca 1600-1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still-life with Cardoon ca 1600-1602
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still life with Fruit and Vegetables
Juan Sánchez Cotán-Still life with Fruit and Vegetables

32 thoughts on “Cotán’s Bodegónes

    1. Yes I am very taken with them. I think the darkness has a warm feeling to it for some reason. Exquisite indeed, the sensibility and the contemplation involved. Who know that the contents of a pantry could be the cause for masterpieces.

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  1. I love these paintings. The subject though not new is painted in a way that sets it apart from other still life. The depth and shadow adds to the beauty as well as the soft dark background. The first painting in your series is amazingly beautiful.

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    1. I agree that these are different from the majority of still-lifes, though I am quite fond of the 17th Century Dutch genre, these take it to another level of meaning. The use of negative space is stunning, even for Baroque painting. Are you talking about the header image of Quinces etc or Still Life with Game Fowl?

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  2. They negative space draws ones eye to the subject of these paintings. A space to breathe one might say. I am referencing the header image “Quinces” , they are all amazing but there is a natural balance there and perfect depth and shadow that gives it a sense of “rightness”. Thoroughly enjoyed !

    I would like To reblog this but if you prefer not delete my request, not a problem.

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    1. I would be honoured, please go ahead. I agree about the Quinces, it is perfection, especially with the very pleasing parabolic curve, the realism of the melon, just about everything in the painting.

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  3. How these still lifes manage to rend me with flurries of decay is absolutely beyond my ability to understand. They are perennial, static, ethereal, yet they flourish in a potent and dense element of Time.

    A deep thank-you for this showcase; you’ve allowed me a moment of sound abstraction.

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    1. My pleasure…I have been haunted by them since I first saw them…definitely paintings to look at and contemplate time and time again. The verities of time and space are very present.

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  4. I found you through the blog House of Hearts, painting is another of my interest, beautiful paintings and I loved how you described the techniques like using few object on the table, the ones hanging from the cords, the separation, I always learn interesting things. And this blog is very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly Charly. Obviously I am big in art and art history and I find it fascinating to write about, you can let your imagination wander and it is a great education about many things beside art. I am glad you enjoyed the post about these stunning paintings. I have followed you and will check out your site shortly.

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  5. I thought I knew a lot of about still life, however I have learnt some interesting facts from you. Brilliant paintings a real fan of still life and so pleased to see that you are back keeping us all on our toes.
    Welcome back Mr Cake

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