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

The Reader

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Gerhard Richter-Lesende (The Reader) 1994 

A truly astounding and disorienting masterpiece by the German virtuoso of latter 20th and early 21th century art, Gerhard Richter. What appears to be at first glance to be an artistic photograph, albeit a sublime one, of Richter’s beautiful third wife Sabine Moritz reading a newspaper, turns to wonderment and awe when you realise that this is actually an oil painting on canvas. There is an absolute perfection of the reproduction of the original image in a different media, a dizzying illusionism that questions our perception of art and consequently reality itself . The gorgeousness of the play of light across the sweep of the neck and shoulders, combined with the serenity of expression and the unquestioned technical mastery is worthy of Vermeer, an acknowledged inspiration.

Richter, who is quoted as saying that he is a Surrealist, has painted in a bewildering array of styles during his career that has spanned over 60 years. As well as his hyper-realist and photo-realistic paintings he has painted abstracts, monochromes and landscapes. Over the last five years his work have fetched the highest prices of any living artist. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne, a city Richter has resided in since 1983 holds a large collection of his work and recently held an exhibition of a series of 26 abstracts painted in 2015.