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

Un Chien Andalou

French Poster for Un Chien Andalou-1929-Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
French Poster for Un Chien Andalou-1929-Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali

In 1929 the young Spaniard Luis Bunuel, who was working in Paris as assistant director to Jean Epstein met with his compatriot and Madrid University friend, the painter Salvador Dali. Over lunch Luis Bunuel recounted a dream he had about a cloud slicing through the moon like a razor blade slicing through an eye. Dali in turn told about his dream of a hand crawling with ants. Instantly inspired Bunuel stated to Dali, “There’s the film, let’s go make it.”

While they worked on the script, Bunuel and Dali had only one rule: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” The resulting film Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) has been called the most famous silent movie ever by Roger Ebert. Its influence upon music videos and low budget independent films is immeasurable.

Un Chien Andalou was immediately successful, (though it led to an irreparable break  with their friend, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who took the title and the movie as a personal affront). Both Bunuel and Dali were admitted to the Surrealist movement who enthusiastically welcomed the film’s Sadean shock tactics and unfettered automatism, which were in keeping with the stated aims of the movement. Georges Bataille unsurprisingly,  given his own obsession with the symbolism of eyes recounted at length in the elegantly horrific L’histoire de l’oeil (The Story of the Eye), mentioned the controversial opening scene in his article on Eyes in Documents, under the subtitle Cannibal Delicacy. On a more practical level Bunuel and Dali gained the financing for their next movie from the Vicomte and Vicomtesse De Noailles, two of the most important avant garde art patrons of the interwar period. The resulting film  L’Age D’or was even more of a succès de scandale, leading to right wing riots in protest and its withdrawal from commercial distribution and public exhibition for over forty years. Most of the shocked reaction was to the infamous coda featuring Jesus Christ as one of the four libertines of the Chateau de Silling, the setting of the Marquis De Sade darkest novel, 120 Days in Sodom. Incidentally the Vicomtesse De Noailles was a descendant of the Marquis and the couple possessed the original manuscript of 120 Days which they kept in a specially designed phallus shaped box.

Here is a link to the complete movie with the original score featuring two tangos and Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Interpretations are always welcome.

Painting It Black

s11[1]
Saturn Devouring His Son-Francisco Goya 1819-1823
The most famous and the most horrific of the disturbing series of paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house outside Madrid in his later years, the so-called ‘Black Paintings’. The paintings were probably never intended for public view, it was only after his death that they were hacked off and transferred to canvas.

Intensely, hermetically private, the Black Paintings show Goya unmuzzling his fertile, macabre imagination. Traditionally believed to refer to the Greek myth of Cronus (Romanized as Saturn), the titan that devours each of his children in turn. Goya’s visceral masterpiece shockingly highlights the cannibalistic frenzy and wild-eyed derangement of the Father of the Gods as he holds the torso of the half-consumed body towards his gaping mouth. Whereas the Italian humanists of the Renaissance had, in their re-interpretation of Classical mythology, concentrated on cavorting nymphs in sunlit Arcadian landscapes, Goya instead  presents us with the vision of the primeval truths contained in myths; that of our darkest impulses unleashed in the blackest of nights. Goya is indeed the first of the moderns.